Site manager Nick Drews looks over the first phase of the alternate care site at the Cal Poly Recreation Center in April 2020.
Site manager Nick Drews looks over the first phase of the alternate care site at the Cal Poly Recreation Center in April 2020. The site was never used for COVID-19 patients and will be dismantled.  (David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

As COVID-19 conditions in San Luis Obispo County continue to improve, officials announced Wednesday that efforts are underway to dismantle the Alternate Care Site at Cal Poly.

On Wednesday, the county officially moved into the orange tier of coronavirus restrictions under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, meaning the COVID-19 case and test positivity rates are down.

The Alternate Care Site was set up at Cal Poly’s Recreation Center in April 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic was in its infancy, to provide an emergency area for patients with the virus to go if they needed extra care and could not stay at home.

It was never used.

“We hoped we would never have to use the ACS but were prepared for the worst,” Wade Horton, county administrative officer and emergency services director, said in a news release. “It’s a relief to say that we no longer need an ACS for our community and that, even during the surge in COVID-19 cases here this past winter, our hospitals were able to provide the quality care our community members needed.”

It will take time to take down the extensive equipment and supplies at the Alternate Care Site.

Matt Lazier, Cal Poly’s director of media relations, noted in an email to The Tribune that the county will “turn the facility back over” to the university on May 31.

The county has also requested all of June to remove the equipment from the Cal Poly site, Lazier wrote, and that “there is not yet a set timeline for when we will be able to open up those affected areas.”

However, the track exercise room in the university’s rec center is open for use, he added.

The county budgeted a whopping $26 million for the Cal Poly site, with set-up costs coming in at around $3.5 million.

The care site was equipped to serve 165 patients, with the capacity to expand to more than 900 beds if necessary. It was staffed by a Medical Reserve Corps that had 250 volunteers at the ready.

Officials were worried at the time that local hospitals would become so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that they’d turn some people away.

One intensive care nurse told The Tribune in January that those scenarios did happen, and that health professionals were faced with impossible decisions at times — forced to decide which patients would get beds.

Even so, the Alternate Care Site never went into use, and officials say hospitals were generally able to handle the influx of patients during COVID-19 case surges in the local community.

The 250 Medical Reserve Corps volunteers now have a “far brighter purpose” — administering COVID-19 vaccines, county officials said in the release.

“The monumental effort that our community undertook to ‘stand up’ this site, in such a short amount of time, is astounding,” county public health officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said in the release. “And I would say it only pales in comparison to the work that our community did to slow the spread, and ensure we never had to use it.”

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