Sonoma State University Selected to Provide at Least 580 Beds for Coronavirus Surge

Sonoma State University will provide at least 580 patient beds at its recreation center and in student housing on its Rohnert Park campus to help Sonoma County hospitals handle a projected surge of coronavirus cases in the weeks ahead, according to a new deal reached with the county.

The contract, finalized late Tuesday after two weeks of negotiations, calls for SSU to host people awaiting test results or those who have mild symptoms of coronavirus, which is known to cause the respiratory disease COVID-19.

More than 1,500 Sonoma County residents could require hospitalization for the coronavirus when infections peak in about two months, according to the first models conducted for the county.

The county had 120 confirmed cases Wednesday morning, but officials say early planning is critical.

“We do not want to be in the position of other jurisdictions throughout the country — notably New York — in terms of not having built out capacity,” said Barbie Robinson, the county’s health services director.

Work will begin as soon as Thursday to prepare the SSU campus to serve as a makeshift patient care site.

The deal with SSU, and the medical provider set to oversee the beds, Petaluma Health Center, has not been publicly released, and it was unclear how much the county is paying the college or health center.

The extra bed space represents an 84% increase over countywide hospital capacity, which is currently 689 beds, including 76 intensive care beds, according to the county. Hospitals plan to add at least 227 more rooms, including 64 ICU beds.

“This is a historic, all-hands-on-deck effort to expand our hospital capacity across this state and here at home in Sonoma County. Opening up these over 500 beds will be a huge boost to expanding our local surge capacity. We are truly grateful for the one hundred percent partnership between Sonoma State University and the County of Sonoma—we know there’s much more work ahead,” Sen. Mike McGuireD-Healdsburg, said in a news release Hopkins shared to her Facebook page after 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The Press Democrat has previously reported the county’s exclusive interest in SSU, which was the sole focus of negotiations over the past two weeks. The college has about 9,000 students, many of whom live on campus. But the end of in-person instruction last month largely emptied the campus, with classes not set to resume on campus until the next academic year, which typically begins in August.

The campus Recreation Center gymnasiums will host patients who test positive for COVID-19 but display mild to moderate symptoms, and a parts of Verdot Village, Sauvignon Village and Cooperage — areas near the university police station on the southwest side of the university — will be used for people awaiting test results, according to the release.

University spokesman Paul Gullixson said there are fewer than 100 students remaining on campus, adding that the number will likely dwindle to fewer than 50 once more students take advantage of housing refunds that have been offered. The remaining students will be isolated from the care sites, according to SSU officials.

“By entering into this agreement, Sonoma State is meeting its civic as well as moral obligations to do all that we can to assist in the global effort to slow the spread of this deadly pathogen and to address the needs of our community,” SSU President Judy Sakaki said in a prepared statement.

It’s unclear when SSU will begin hosting patients, but Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore had previously confirmed the county has requested California National Guard help to set up the sites. The county, also, will need to boost staffing levels with Petaluma Health, and is actively seeking more health care workers to help manage the SSU site.

The contract calls for space for 580 beds, but provides flexibility to boost surge capacity beyond 700, Robinson said Tuesday night.

“We’re grateful to Sonoma State for filling such an important role,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin said in the release. “Having alternate care sites will be crucial if our hospitals experience a surge in patients. We hope we won’t be in that situation, but it’s imperative we plan for it and have resources ready.”

– This story will be updated.

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