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Milwaukee officials eye State Fair Expo Center as possible alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients

Data pix.

WEST ALLIS -- Local officials say Milwaukee's COVID-19 numbers are very similar to where New York was a week ago, and that's reason enough to prepare for extra bed space.

That took them to State Fair Park.

A storied place filled with joy in Wisconsin's history, state and local leaders hope to transform the now-quiet State Fair Park into an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients.

"This is an attempt to prepare in the event we need this," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "The modeling that has been done, led us at the city government level to conclude that this is a prudent step to take."

Tom Barrett

Local leaders sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers asking to outfit the park's Expo Center with bed space in the event that hospitals run out. Health officials say the step is necessary because of the numbers in the most affected areas of the city -- the central and north side; For every 100,000 people there, 250 are expected to test positive.

"That number is concerning because there, that is similar to where cities such as New York were less than a week ago," said Dr. Ben Weston with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

The U.S. Army Corps has stepped in with similar projects in Detroit and Chicago. In Illinois, they constructed the set up within 18 hours.

U.S. Army Corps set up equipment.

"Both are cities that have a higher per capita than we have here in Milwaukee, but we certainly are in the neighborhood unfortunately of those communities that could use this based on the number of cases we have," Barrett said.

The Expo Center would not be for the most critical patients, and officials could tap other buildings within State Fair Park if need be.

"We want to avoid a situation where we decide we need this facility too late. When we already have patients in need," Weston said.

Officials looked at other facilities but found that parking and location were ideal at State Fair Park. They will then take the idea to FEMA and FEMA would authorize the project. From there, it could be hours before they begin working.

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