Governor announces auxiliary hospital site at Dulles Expo Center

Governor announces auxiliary hospital site at Dulles Expo Center
(Graphic/Lyvi Sieg)

By Missy Schrott |

Coronavirus cases in Alexandria have escalated rapidly during the past week, with the first resident death due to COVID-19 reported on April 6. The number of reported COVID-19 cases in the city have more than tripled in the past week, up to 149 by April 9.

Nationally, officials have warned that this could be the deadliest week of the coronavirus, largely because results are coming in now for people who contracted the virus before strict social distancing measures were put in place. Mayor Justin Wilson echoed that this is what Alexandria is experiencing on a local level.

“The people who are testing positive today are people that were infected two weeks ago,” Wilson said. “You have a period of incubation then you have the period of testing, then you have the wait for those results. For the next several days, I think we’re going to continue to see the number go up pretty dramatically.”

Alongside the surge in cases is new data predicting fewer deaths in the United States, and a sooner-than-anticipated apex in Virginia.

The new projection model comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The forecasting model has been used by the White House and dubbed by the Washington Post as “America’s most influential coronavirus model.”

As of April 9, the IHME model projects that Virginia’s peak resource use will come on April 20. The projections are based on the assumption that people will continue to practice full social distancing through May. The model predicts that on the peak date, Virginia will have enough regular hospital beds and ICU beds, but a shortage of 272 invasive ventilators.

Last week, IHME estimated state resource use would peak on May 20 and that the state would have a deficit of 589 ICU beds and 734 invasive ventilators.

Wilson cautioned against placing too much conviction in one model’s projections.

“There are a lot of different models, and I also think it’s a fallacy to look at Virginia as a monolith,” Wilson said. “Virginia is a very diverse state … so there are going to be parts of the state that are going to have different peaks and different hospital capacity at various different times.”

In addition, Wilson said a University of Virginia model commissioned by the governor is supposed to be released soon, which could have more specific Virginia estimates.

Inova Alexandria Hospital and the City of Alexandria did not respond to requests for comments on the IHME projections by press time. However, last week, Inova spokesperson Tracy Connell told the Times that Inova was preparing for a surge.

“IAH has updated the pandemic surge plan to meet the unique demands of the COVID-19 situation,” Connell said in an email. “We have supplies and equipment to care for every patient that has presented to the hospital, and we continue to acquire additional capacity in preparation for any surge that may present.”

Gov. Ralph Northam (DVA) announced one measure that’s underway to expand hospital capacity during his April 3 briefing on COVID-19: Three sites in Virginia have been chosen for large auxiliary hospitals.

Temporary hospitals will be built in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. They will be projects of both the state government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Press Association reported.

The Northern Virginia site will be located at the Dulles Expo Center. The facility is expected to have the capacity to house 510 regular or 315 ICU beds. At his April 6 briefing, Northam said work on the auxiliary hospitals would begin this week. The sites are expected to be operational at some point in May – possibly after the state’s peak resource need.

On April 3, both the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the City of Alexandria issued recommendations that all residents wear cloth masks every time they leave their homes to prevent community spread of COVID-19.

For daily updates on COVID-19 in Alexandria, go to

Denise Dunbar contributed to this article.