CONCORD — Atrium Health will debut its one-of-a-kind mobile hospital this Sunday at the running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a way to maintain a “COVID-Safe environment.”
MED-1 is a unique “emergency room on wheels” that has been deployed for disaster relief during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. The unit being used this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of two in Atrium Health’s fleet. The other is in Georgia to assist with additional emergency room capabilities.
“In many ways, North Carolina has been a model of success in combatting COVID-19 and the social distancing directives in our state have successfully slowed the spread,” Brian Middleton, Vice President of Atrium Health’s Musculoskeletal Institute, said. “As we look for ways to return to normalcy, having ‘race day’ at Charlotte Motor Speedway happen over Memorial Day Weekend is a sign of hope and a sign of healing.
“At Atrium Health, we’re proud to be able to help create an environment that helps protect the health of all those taking part in this incredible event.”
The MED-1 in Concord this week features state-of-the-art upgrades from the original MED-1. Each unit features 14 acute-care beds, a two-bed operating room, digital X-ray capabilities, ultrasounds, an on-site lab, a pharmacy and other essential emergency department necessities.
This one will be used to keep an individual who might be showing symptoms of COVID-19 from entering Atrium Health’s second mobile care unit already located in the infield.
All individuals on-site this week will be required to be screened before entering the speedway and will have to wear masks and gloves and maintain social distancing where possible. However, in the case that someone does become symptomatic, Atrium Health will be there to screen anyone who needs it.
The health and safety procedures through the week, which will feature four events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will be extensive.
“They would be screened before they came in here, obviously before they even come into the track, they’ll receive a screening,” Atrium’s Kristy Haynes explained. “But if they do become symptomatic after the race has started, they’ll be re-screened and then isolated in here and then they’ll receive any type of treatment that they’d need whether it’s to assist breathing or anything like that.”
All races this week will be held without fans in the stands due to Governor Roy Cooper's bans on mass gatherings which limits crowds outdoors to 25 people as part of Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan.
The unit on-site will just be used for screening, not testing, but a testing site is located just a short way away at the zMAX Dragway where Atrium Health’s most experienced testing site in the state is located.
More than 100 individuals come by per day on average to get tested for COVID-19 at that site, according to Atrium Health’s Jason Schwebach.
But just in case someone was symptomatic for COVID-19, MED-1 has everything on-site that would be necessary and all employees have the necessary protective equipment as well.
Atrium Health was founded 79 years ago in Charlotte. It has been partners with Charlotte Motor Speedway for a good portion of that time. That goes a long way in making Charlotte Motor Speedway’s executive vice president and general manager Greg Walter feel comfortable about health and safety over the coming week.
“We’re really blessed to have a partner like Atrium because of their expertise,” Walter said. “I think a lot of the state officials and local officials look and say, ‘Well if Atrium has been part of this, we feel good about it.’
“The screenings that will take place over at the Dragway will be done by an Atrium Health official, by a nurse or a medical person. Or if maybe something comes up that we don’t foresee, having this expertise at our side is incredibly comforting.”
Races will be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday with the Coca-Cola 600, Monday with the Xfinity Series Alsco 300, Tuesday with the Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200, and finally, Wednesday with the Cup Series’ Alsco Uniforms 500.
Denny Hamlin took home the victory at a rain-shortened Toyota 500 in Darlington on Wednesday while Kevin Harvick won The Real Heroes 400 on the same track May 17.
Both drivers will likely be in the mix again this week with their experience on intermediate tracks like the ones in Charlotte, but Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch will almost certainly factor into the top finishers as well.
However, with the time off from racing that saw the Cup Series sidelined for more than two months, Walter thinks Sunday and Wednesday’s races could be anyone’s to win.
“After what we saw (Thursday) in the Xfinity race, there’s so many uncertainties here that I think it’s a wide-open table,” he said.
The Coca-Cola 600 will start at 6 p.m. Sunday while the Alsco Uniforms 500 will be run at 8 p.m. Wednesday.