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China Builds Two Coronavirus Hospitals

Drone image of the Huoshenshan Hospital construction site. (source: AP)

Working Against The Corona Clock

To say that China has been struggling to contain the coronavirus is an understatement. Wuhan was ground zero for the initial spread of the disease. Since late December, the world has been watching as this new strain of coronavirus has systematically spread across the globe.

What everyone may not be aware of is the miraculous undertaking to build not one, but two hospitals – each one taking a little over a week’s time to complete. Both facilities are dedicated to isolating infected patients, helping them endure COVID-19, and attempting to contain the spread of the virus.

So how do you build a full-scale hospital with state-of-the-art medical equipment, complex air handling systems, an internal video communication network, isolation wards, and 30 intensive care units – all in 10 days? By implementing extreme organization, mobilizing an unprecedented workforce (more than 7,500 construction workers), and utilizing modular construction.

Both new hospitals (Huoshenshan and Leishenshan) were patterned after the Xiaotangshan Hospital in Beijing. It was built in 2003 to handle the SARS epidemic. The Xiaotangshan hospital was built in one week – although it was much smaller and less complex.

The Building Plan

Central to finishing this 645,000 sq. ft. structure in record time was the use of modular construction. Each pre-fab room was built off-site in a factory and shipped to the jobsite. There was virtually no waiting time for the building’s superstructure (metal framing, cladding, etc.) to be completed before the next phase could begin. Modular construction is fast, but requires more project organization, logistical planning and inventory management for a project this size to be successful.

Modular construction was instrumental to the success of the hospital builds. (Getty Images)

The Funding

The National Development and Reform Commission allocated $43M on Jan 27, 2020. That same day, the State Grid Corporation of China donated $8.7M of physical materials for the construction of both hospitals.

The Equipment

XCMG, a multinational state-owned heavy machinery manufacturing company, dispatched 329 pieces of construction equipment, including cranes, excavators, heavy machinery, loaders, road rollers, etc.

Large white cement mixers lined up for continual pours as concrete was placed in record time.

Hundreds of excavators, dozers, loaders, and cranes were used in the massive project. (STR | AFP | Getty Images)

“Building a hospital in 10 days is a great undertaking for construction machinery companies in terms of overall coordination ability and teamwork. The honor of this record achievement belongs to each individual who contributed so much during this difficult time”
– Wang Min, Chairman of XCMG

During the Huoshenshan construction, XCMG monitored their equipment data using the Hanyun software platform. They logged an accumulated 2,199 working hours in 8 days. The Hanyun platform can also measure body temperature of by passers – which can decrease the risk of cross-infection.

A half dozen cement mixers, or “White Rabbits” as the locals call them, pumping concrete over rebar. (www.news.cn)

The Workforce

Most of the 7,500 construction workers on the Huoshenshan Hospital project were rural migrants who were planning to return home for the Lunar New Year holiday. They became trapped in Wuhan when local authorities quarantined the city on January 23rd. The two new hospital projects gave them a chance to earn more money while contributing to the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

Construction workers were offered $1,437 for 8 days of work. The average wage for construction work is around $1,221 per month. Many did not sleep for days at a time.

A worker takes a quick nap on a large roll of plastic sheeting. (Getty Images)

Some workers would catch a few hours of sleep on rolls of building materials. Meals were delivered at the gate each day and distributed to workers by their immediate supervisors.

Each worker had to pass a daily health inspection to verify they had not contracted the virus. As you may expect, even though protocols were in place to prevent the virus from reaching the workers, a number of them still contracted the virus.

Some workers believed they became vulnerable to infection on the jobsite, after February 3 when Zone 1 was opened to patients. At that time there was a shortage of masks for construction workers – and some workers developed symptoms.

Consequently, all workers were placed in quarantine for two weeks after construction was completed.

A dozen workers roll out vapor barrier over the concrete foundation. (Getty Images)

Triple the average hourly wage sounds great on paper, until you factor in travel to and from Wuhan, and no wages for those two weeks of quarantine. Basically, they made about the same amount of income that month as any other month. But money aside, it takes a HUGE amount of commitment and tenacity to pull off a massive project like this.

A worker cuts rebar at night – as construction continued around the clock. (www.news.cn)

Hospital Stats At A Glance

Huoshenshan Hospital

Construction began on the first hospital on Jan 23, 2020 and the first patients were admitted Feb 2, 2020. There were four construction companies working in concert to complete this monumental task.

Huoshenshan finished construction. (People’s Daily, China)

Project Stats:

Name: Huoshenshan Hospital (“Mount Fire God” Hospital)
Days to complete: 10
Size: 645,000 sq. ft.
Number of beds: 1,000
Construction workers: 7,500
Medical staff: 1,400


Leishenshan Hospital

Construction began on the second hospital, Leishenshan, on Jan 28, 2020 and construction was completed Feb 6, 2020. The first patients were admitted on Feb 8th and filled all 1,600 beds in the first week. Over 31 tons of medical equipment, and a medical staff of 1,300 workers, were sent from the Liaoning province to operate the Leishenshan hospital.

Leishenshan finished construction. (CGTN)

Project Stats:

Name: Leishenshan Hospital (“Mount Thunder God” Hospital)
Days to complete: 10
Size: 807,000 sq. ft.
Number of beds: 1,600
Construction workers: 7,500
Medical staff: 1,300


Construction And The Coronavirus

The good news is that as a group, construction workers are at a lower risk than those working in the airline industry, border patrol, or healthcare. Working outside reduces the chance of coming into contact with infected individuals. Even in those areas of the US with a higher number of COVID-19 cases (like the northwest), construction seems to be progressing at a normal rate.

In the Seattle area, which has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than other areas of the country, there has been no noticeable decline in project starts, workforce numbers, or delivery of building materials – as of mid-March.

One thing many contractors are running into is a shortage of N95 rated masks – due to the general populous buying them up to reduce the spread of the virus. These masks are the first line of defense against construction dust, including silica, for most contractors. Although many mask producers are stepping up production, most of them cannot keep up with the global demand.

If your job requires anything that may be on short supply, talk to your distributor about a sourcing plan and any potential alternative solutions so your work isn’t delayed.

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Recent Developments

The president of China (Xi Jinping), traveled to Wuhan on March 10th – his first visit in over two months – as a sign that the Chinese government believes the worst of the new coronavirus is behind them.

While that may be true, countries like Japan, Italy, South Korea and Iran are still grappling with containing the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days if you have been exposed to the virus. Once contracted, the COVID-19 lifecycle lasts anywhere from a few days up to 20 days, depending on age and health status. Some symptoms may take longer to work their way out of your system.

For more industry-specific about the coronavirus:

https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/index.html

https://www.agc.org/coronavirus-covid-19

https://www.constructiondive.com/news/contractors-in-us-coronavirus-affected-areas-say-its-business-as-usual/573409/

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