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Nats' spring facility latest to convert to testing site

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Published in Baseball
Monday, 30 March 2020 16:59

Sports venues are an emerging asset in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. From staging grounds to drive-thru testing facilities to makeshift hospitals, the once-empty stadiums have become a bustle of activity again.

The Washington Nationals' spring facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, is the latest to be turned into a testing area. For now, there will be medical personnel in the parking lots instead of players.

"Our [spring] complex is being used as a coronavirus testing site until further notice," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday. "So we're going to shut it down to all players and staff completely while the county and National Guard use it for testing."

At first, spring training facilities were left open during the shutdown, but with more shelter-in-place orders, parking lots and stadiums are being repurposed.

"The news of probably the week is that we've totally closed the facility here in West Palm Beach," Rizzo said.

Scenarios like the one there are playing out all over the country.

Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FedEx Field in Washington and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, are just a few of the others that have been turned into testing centers. The US Army Corp of Engineers, along with FEMA, have agreed to deploy a military field hospital at Seattle's CenturyLink Field Event Center, and a soccer field in Seattle is building its own makeshift hospital as well.

The United Center in Chicago became a staging area last week.

"As Illinois goes through this together, the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks, is proud to be playing a critical role with our city, state and federal response to the pandemic," the Center said in a statement. "Our arena and outside campus will be transformed into a logistics hub where we will be assisting front-line food distribution, first-responder staging and the collection of critically needed medical supplies."

Stadium personnel say their wish is that their venues remain mostly testing centers and not makeshift hospitals -- or even morgues; those scenarios would mean the situation across the country had become much worse. For now, and for the foreseeable future, sports stadiums have a new purpose, with team owners pitching in wherever they're able.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' TIAA Bank Field has been operating as a drive-thru coronavirus testing site since March 21.

"The Jaguars ... are glad to do everything we can to assist the federal government and local health care workers in offering a testing site outside of TIAA Bank Field," Jaguars senior VP of communications Dan Edwards said. "Right now, there's no better use for this venue than caring for the people of Northeast Florida."

It's a sentiment being echoed from coast to coast, while more facilities are folded into the fight against the coronavirus.

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