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Archived - What does it take to transform an arena into a COVID-19 assessment centre? Danny Alves shares the tricks of the trade

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April 30, 2020
Feature Stories

For Danny Alves, the five days leading up to March 13 passed in a blur. He and his colleagues in the City of Ottawa’s Recreation, Cultural and Facility Services department worked alongside healthcare teams, City IT staff, Ottawa Paramedics, Roads and Traffic crews, and other tradespeople to transform the Brewer Arena into Ottawa’s first COVID-19 assessment centre.

Danny took a few minutes to shed some light on what it’s like to turn an arena into a medical clinic now playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19.

A man in a blue hoodie and baseball cap stands next to the Brewer Arena sign outside the facility on a sunny day.
Danny Alves helped to coordinate the logistics of transforming the Brewer Arena into a COVID-19 assessment centre.

Tell me about the process. How did you get an assessment centre up and running in only five days?

It was an action-packed week! On Monday March 9 we removed the ice, and by Friday of that week the centre was open and The Ottawa Hospital medical staff were assessing people and testing for COVID-19.

The work itself to transform the rink was sort of like what goes into setting up a trade show, but with a next-level, all-hands-on-deck type of urgency. We had staff from a range of City departments pitching in. Roads and Traffic crews, tradespeople, our own facilities staff, IT, Ottawa Paramedics, you name it.

I’m guessing that two months ago our zamboni operators wouldn’t have predicted they’d be helping to set up a clinic to get us through a pandemic, but that’s where we are! I think everyone working on this project took a lot of pride in creating this extension of the hospital, knowing how essential testing is to the city’s fight against COVID-19.

What was the biggest logistical challenge?

One of the trickiest parts was setting up the technology. At one point the IT people were on site overnight to keep the project on schedule. An arena doesn’t easily lend itself to the kind of IT infrastructure needed here, but our IT people got the job done and now staff can connect to the hospitals’ networks.

Two men stand in an arena in front of rows of folding chairs, with a clinic set up in the background.
Transforming Brewer Arena into a COVID-19 assessment centre was a team effort. Staff from The Ottawa Hospital, CHEO, Ottawa Public Health and the City of Ottawa executed the redesign in just five days. Pictured here: The City of Ottawa’s Danny Alves and Matthew Byrnes.

The assessment centre is operated by The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO in collaboration with Ottawa Public Health. What was it like to work with hospital staff and healthcare teams?

It was incredible to watch them work their magic to create this clinic. They had a clear vision for how they needed the assessment centre to take shape, which helped those of us doing the legwork take that vision and make it real in just a matter of days. They designed the layout strategically with partitions in place to ensure physical distancing.

What was the mood like, especially in those first few days and weeks?

Not a lot of people get to witness the work these nurses do and the crazy long hours they put in. That was really humbling to see. There are so many people with important roles in keeping this clinic running smoothly, like the cleaning crews. Everyone is especially grateful to the staff who manage the PPE and medical supplies. If they’re happy, everyone is happy. Seeing these amazing people at work, fighting this fight, it keeps the rest of us motivated.

With the assessment centre up and running, what’s the work like now?

We typically have two staff on site to take care of building maintenance and any issues that come up around the property.

The hospital medical staff are in full PPE, wearing gowns, face shields, masks and gloves. Any time City staff have work or repairs to do in the active part of the facility, they wear the same gear to protect themselves.

The City has been converting other facilities to offer social services during the pandemic, so we’re still busy. With the Assessment Centre now up and running, I’ve been working with the teams who are setting up shelters and food banks at other City facilities.

A little different from what you were doing two months ago, I gather!

That’s right! It’s been crazy, but in a good way. I’m just happy I get to play a role in helping the city get through this.

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