US Open tennis complex to be used as makeshift hospital in New York

Aerial view of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park from 2007. By Evan Simko-Bednarski and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) -- The New York stadium complex that hosts the annual U.S. Open tennis tournament every summer will be used as a makeshift hospital to bolster efforts to care for patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens is slated to be transformed into overflow hospital space, said Chris Widmaier, U.S. Tennis Association spokesman. The conversion is being made at the request of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, he added.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the makeshift hospital will have 350 beds and, starting next week, will support patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 but do not need ICU care from Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. That will relieve some of the pressure from the hospital, which has been at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is one of the world's largest public tennis facilities and is home to Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium and a number of smaller tennis courts.

The U.S. Open, scheduled for late August, is still on.

The tennis center's transformation comes as New York state and city have scrambled in recent weeks to rapidly expand its ability to care for an incoming surge in patients with coronavirus. A grassy meadow in Central Park was transformed into a makeshift hospital and a Navy hospital ship arrived in New York Harbor to further expand the number of available hospital beds.

New York is the current epicenter of the American coronavirus pandemic and leads the nation in cases and deaths. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has emphasized a two-pronged solution to the coronavirus outbreak: increase the ability to care for those who get sick and cut down on the spread of new cases to a manageable level.

Like with the Navy ship USNS Comfort, turning the National Tennis Center into a makeshift hospital for non-coronavirus patients would help free bed space in major hospitals to care for infected people.

As of Monday, 1,218 people have died from coronavirus in New York state, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, an increase from the 965 deaths on Sunday, Cuomo said. In all, about 66,500 people have tested positive for coronavirus, over 9,500 people are currently hospitalized and 2,352 of them are being treated in the intensive care unit, he said.

The rate of daily increases did appear to slow a bit in the last seven days. An analysis of CNN's count shows that the state's average rate of day-over-day increase for the last seven days was 17% - compared to 58% for the previous seven-day period.

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