Colleges offering dorms as hospital overflow for virus cases

FILE - This Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, shows a sign for Middlebury College on the campus in Middlebury, Vt. Middlebury College in Vermont said it's offering some of its buildings as local officials craft emergency plans to help combat the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)
FILE - This Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, shows a sign for Middlebury College on the campus in Middlebury, Vt. Middlebury College in Vermont said it's offering some of its buildings as local officials craft emergency plans to help combat the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BOSTON, Mass. – A growing number of U.S. colleges are preparing to turn empty dorms into temporary housing for patients with the coronavirus as the nation’s hospitals brace for a possible surge of cases that could push treatment centers beyond their limits.

Tufts University announced Wednesday that it’s making hundreds of vacant dorm rooms available in coming weeks to help relieve “unprecedented stress” on the health care system. The Massachusetts school's president called on university leaders across the country to follow suit, saying they have a civic duty to help in times of crisis.

Middlebury College in Vermont said it's also offering some of its buildings as local officials craft emergency plans, and New York University is asking students who live near campus to return and clear out their dorm rooms in case they're needed to house patients later.

Some state leaders see college campuses as a natural fit to serve as temporary field hospitals. Colleges across the U.S. have started to empty over the past week as students are sent home to curb the virus' spread. Many campuses suddenly have hundreds of beds, dining halls and gyms that authorities say could be used to support patients or medical workers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday urged President Donald Trump to mobilize the military to turn college dorms into makeshift medical centers. He said states can't build hospitals or acquire ventilators fast enough to meet expected demand, adding that the “best hope” is to create temporary medical facilities.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has also proposed using dorms to house patients, and state health officials in Massachusetts said on Wednesday that the move makes sense.

Marylou Sudders, Massachusetts' secretary of health and human services, said college dorms are “very much on our list of opportunities.”

“Every challenge sometimes creates an opportunity, and obviously the empty dorms have created an opportunity for us,” she said.