DCU Center converts to field hospital as Worcester COVID-19 cases soar

DCU Center converts to field hospital as cases in Worcester soar

WORCESTER — A second surge of COVID-19 is not only putting a crunch on Worcester-area hospital beds, but it’s also taking a toll on healthcare workers, the city’s medical director, Dr. Michael P. Hirsh, said in a news conference Thursday.

“The burden of this being very much like a Groundhog Day feeling now that we’re going back into battle, I think, is very disturbing to a lot of my colleagues,” said Hirsh. “We’re all waiting for the word that elective surgeries are going to shut down and the ICUs are all going to be converted into COVID units.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 302 Worcester residents have died of COVID-19. In the last month, the city has seen a fourfold increase in cases, with 667 new cases over the last week.

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To relieve the burden on area hospitals and meet the increasing demand for beds, the DCU Center is once again being converted into a field hospital operated by Umass Memorial Medical Center. City leaders say, if the facility were open now, it would already be in use.

“We are working with our state partners to stand up that facility,” Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus said. “It will ultimately be able to accommodate 250 patients.”

The field hospital is set to open in early December, and that deadline may be crucial.

While city leaders urge residents to stay home for Thanksgiving, they fear holiday travel and gatherings will lead to a further uptick in cases in mid-December, coinciding with the flu spike.

“We’re asking folks to stay home and limit their Thanksgiving gatherings to their immediate household members,” Augustus said. “If you’ve made plans to host a gathering or to travel, I’m imploring

you to cancel them.”

But experts believe the high number of people lining up for free COVID-19 testing in the city may indicate many are planning to travel for the holiday.

While they urge folks to get tested, they also warn that a negative test is not a free pass to gather or unmask.

“People sometimes have a false sense of security that, ‘I had my mask on; I can’t get sick,’ or ‘I got my PCR test last weekend. I’m negative; I’m fine,” Hirsh said.

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