Sonoma State University selected to provide at least 580 beds for coronavirus surge

Sonoma State University will provide at least 580 patient beds at the 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 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 computer projections from an outside consultant that the county hired to determine the scope of local transmission of the infectious disease.

One campus residential housing complex will be used for at-risk populations, including people older than 65, and those with underlying medical conditions, according to information provided late Tuesday by Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.

The deal with SSU, and the medical provider set to oversee the beds, Petaluma Health Center, was not made available Tuesday night, 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.

Barbie Robinson, the county’s health services director, said in a 5 p.m. phone interview Tuesday that a finalized contract was imminent, but she refused to disclose the entity selected by the county.

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 portion of the university’s residential housing area will be used for people awaiting test results, according to the release.

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.”

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