The parking lot of an Albuquerque football stadium has been quickly transformed into a helipad in preparation for an anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients from northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation.
The rapid transformation of the parking lot at Albuquerque Public Schools’ Milne Stadium comes after health officials in Flagstaff expressed concern that the medical center there has reached its limit as the number of cases throughout northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation quickly increase.
The landing pad will be used by the nearby Presbyterian Hospital.
The stadium is usually a high school football and track facility, but Sunland Asphalt spent most of the weekend repaving the parking lot so it would be able to handle a medical helicopter.
“We started the project (Friday), we were out there today and we’ll be out there (Sunday),” Sunland Asphalt Senior Vice President Matt Johnson said. “They were hoping to possibly use this as soon as Sunday night, if not … first thing Monday morning.”
Hospitals plan to use the landing pad as soon as it’s finished, according to Johnson.
“My understanding is that there is going to be a long line of ambulances that are ready to take patients to the nearest hospital as soon as the helicopters land,” he said.
Flagstaff Medical Center is one of the only major hospitals in all of northern Arizona. As a result, they have cared for the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in the area.
The Navajo Nation has been especially hard struck by the coronavirus pandemic as it has swept across the country.
Approximately 175,000 Navajo citizens live across the 24,700 square miles throughout Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The tribe and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service said the number of positive coronavirus tests reached 1,197 as of Saturday, with 44 deaths.
As of Saturday, nearly 60% of all Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases were in Arizona.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses the phrase “flatten the curve” to describe the process of lowering the rate of global infection. However, northern Arizona health officials have expressed concern that there hasn’t been enough progress.
“We have not seen a flattening of the curve … The patients coming from the reservation are very, very ill and they need the support of our intensivists and larger critical care teams at Flagstaff Medical Center,” Flo Spyrow, CEO for Northern Arizona Healthcare, told the Republic last week.
Previously, critical COVID-19 patients were transferred to hospitals in Phoenix. It’s not clear how hospitals will determine which facility they should be moved to.
As early as Sunday night, many sick patients may instead be airlifted to Milne Stadium in Albuquerque.
Republic reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article. Reach Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @vlahovichryan
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