San Luis Obispo County will remove the COVID-19 Alternative Care Site inside the Cal Poly Recreation Center after a year and a month of underutilization, officials announced Wednesday, April 28 in a press release.
Tara Kennon, who is part of the county’s COVID-19 Public Information Team, said in an email that the decision to “demobilize” the site was based off local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations data, as well as the “wide availability of safe, effective vaccines.”
She added that the site deconstruction has and will continue to occur in phases over the next few weeks and will be partly paid for by grants and federal funding.
There is no set timeline when all the occupied areas in the Recreation Center will be open for university use.
In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, the county partnered with Cal Poly to transform the Recreation Center into an alternative care site for COVID-19 patients who were not sick enough to be hospitalized, but unable to recover at home in the case of an overflow of patients at local hospitals.
“The Alternate Care Site was an important safeguard to make sure we would be able to provide care for people in our community if needed,” Kennon said in an email.
She said the cost of setting up and maintaining the site was approximately $1 million in construction and an additional $3.5 million for initial medical supplies and equipment, which was mostly covered by federal funding.
Modifications to the Recreation Center in the setup of the care site included wiring for electricity and oxygen.
The county found the Recreation Center suitable for the care site because it is a large facility, Cal Poly Spokesperson Matt Lazier said.
The Recreation Center also has “excellent access to water and electricity,” the ability to be accessed by public roads that do not run through other parts on campus and because it includes hard surfaces “that are relatively easy to sanitize,” according to Lazier.
The university agreed to the county’s request to set up a care site on campus because Cal Poly is a state institution and has “a duty to the people of California to assist in the response to public emergencies and the requests of the governor and local authorities,” Lazier said.
However, Lazier said the care site on campus never received any COVID-19 patients and therefore was never utilized. More than 250 Medical Reserve Corps volunteers were trained to upkeep the site, but instead used their training to provide vaccines for community members.
Although the site is located on Cal Poly’s campus, the care site is considered a county facility and the university has not played a role in managing the site.
The county told the university and Associated Students Inc. that it plans to return the center back to Cal Poly on May 31, but after the county moves out it will take time and work in order to “reset” the facility for use as a Recreation Center, Lazier said.
The county requested to remove all of its substantial equipment and supplies during the month of June.
Kennon said the county will keep some of the personal protective equipment, oxygen concentrators, beds and other durable and non-durable equipment in order for the community to be “better prepared for the next pandemic or other disaster.”
The county is also looking into donating other materials, based on the guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which funded many of the purchases.