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Illinois Guard helps build care facility at McCormick Place

Members of the Illinois Air National Guard assemble an alternate care facility at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago April 8, 2020. Sixty Guard members were activated to support the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up the facility for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms who do not require intensive care.

Members of the Illinois Air National Guard assemble an alternate care facility at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago April 8, 2020. Sixty Guard members were activated to support the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up the facility for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms who do not require intensive care.

CHICAGO – A team of 60 members of the Illinois Air National Guard is helping build an alternate care facility at the sprawling McCormick Place to handle a potential surge of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker described the facility as an intervention for people in the Chicago area not assigned to critical care related to COVID-19. He credited the work of all the agencies involved.

"Monumental, round-the-clock dedication got this done before we need it – preparing for saving lives in the event things become as bad as some have predicted," Pritzker said during a visit April 3.

Airmen were activated from each of the Illinois Air National Guard units across the state, the 126th Air Refueling Wing, 183rd Wing, and the 182nd Airlift Wing, to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, in building out the facility.

The site will accommodate about 3,000 patients and act as a model for other regions of the country, said 2nd Lt. Jon Kent, the officer in charge of the Guard's relief efforts at McCormick Place.

"I could not be more proud of the work accomplished by our Airmen this week," said Kent. "In just five short days, they were able to set up a system that they were unfamiliar with and greatly enhanced the capabilities of medical responders who will soon be using the facilities here. They are a great example of how the Illinois National Guard stands ever ready to support the citizens of Illinois in any mission assigned to us."

"We are all working together to make a huge difference for potentially 3,000 patients," said Senior Airman Austin DeRousse, team lead for the 126th Air Refueling Wing at McCormick Place. "Seeing those 500 beds being built out that give sick people a place to come so that they can keep their families and the rest of the population safe is really an awesome thing to be a part of."

Tech. Sgt. Jason Erlick, team lead for the 182nd Airlift Wing assigned to McCormick place, said it took some 200 pallets of medical equipment to transform three large areas of the convention center into a medical facility.

"We separated over 600 different medical items and stocked each room in order to fulfill the needs of the patients," Erlick said.

"This is history right here; it's not a happy history, but it's something that our children will be learning about someday, and it's remarkable to be here and to make a difference."

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