U.S. may convert thousands of New York hotel, college rooms into care units

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[March 21, 2020]    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at converting more than 10,000 New York rooms, potentially in hotels and college dorms, into medical care units to help address the fast-spreading coronavirus, the commanding general of the Army Corps said on Friday.

The Manhattan skyline is seen behind the Calvary Cemetery as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in the Queens borough of New York City, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The pandemic has upended life in much of the United States, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and sharply curtailing travel.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite told reporters at the Pentagon that the Army Corps was looking at converting the rooms and other large spaces into intensive care unit-type facilities and it would need to happen within weeks, not months.

"We're talking about over 10,000 that we are looking at right now," Semonite said, adding that a decision would be made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Earlier this week, the White House said it was in talks with the Pentagon about how the military can be deployed to deal with the coronavirus, including setting up field hospitals in states with a surge in cases.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the Army Corps to increase hospital capacity. The Army Corps of Engineers is made up of 37,000 soldiers and civilians providing engineering services in more than 130 countries, its website says.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler and Howard Goller)

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