To say that the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe has many nations struggling to cope is an understatement. Not everyone, though, has been caught off guard. The many scientists and analysts who have been advocating epidemiological preparedness over the past several years must feel vindicated (not to mention frustrated) right now. And then there are people like Cameron Sinclair, “a social impact entrepreneur and humanitarian designer” who many years ago founded the not-for-profit Architecture For Humanity. His past experience in conflict and disaster zones has given him some idea of what might come and a unique perspective on how to help deal with it.
“While most people are focused on today’s issues,” he wrote via e-mail recently from self-isolation in New York City, “a team of us who worked in pandemic response have been looking at a near-future disaster [such as the current outbreak]. For the past two weeks, a multidisciplinary team has designed and developed rapidly deployable modular care and COVID-19 recovery/isolation rooms. We are also developing the world’s first mobile off-grid/micro-grid capable ICU if COVID-19 hits rural [areas].”
These mobile treatment and isolation rooms — developed by a start-up company called Jupe Health, for which Sinclair serves as chief humanitarian adviser — are about one-thirtieth the cost of hospital rooms and can be set up anywhere. Unlike big cities, where the mass mobilization of resources is easier to pull off, rural areas present numerous cost and logistical challenges when it comes to addressing outbreaks. The kind of overnight response that saw New York City, for instance, quickly transform its Jacob Javits Convention Center into a temporary 1,000-room disaster hospital (with considerable help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) would have been next to impossible in a remoter upstate location.
Jupe’s mobile units, which are currently being tested in California, aim to resolve that problem. Designed by a team of healthcare professionals and mobile-shelter experts — Jupe’s co-founders, Jeff Wilson and Cameron Blizzard, are a doctor and an equipment-leasing expert respectively, while Esther Choo, an emergency medicine physician and health services researcher based in Portland, Oregon, is the company’s chief medical adviser — the units come in three variations: Jupe Rest, Jupe Care and Jupe Plus.
Jupe Rest, a climate-controlled self-isolation room and rest/sleeping unit for medical professionals, accommodates a king, queen or two twin beds, features air-monitoring and noise-reduction technology and is easy to sanitize after use, while Jupe Care, an off-grid recovery unit for non-critical COVID-19 patients, incorporates a donning and doffing chamber, includes a sink, toilet and ventilator hookups and comes with hard- or soft-top cover options.
The most ambitious of the modules, Jupe Plus, is billed as the world’s first stand-alone micro-grid capable intensive care unit, intended to treat the severest cases. Like its “lighter” counterpart, Jupe Care, it has a 20-square-metre footprint but is considerably more expensive ($99,000 U.S. and up, compared to $52,000 to $78,000 for Care, depending on configuration and hard/soft cover option). Jupe Rest, meanwhile, is roughly half their size (10 square metres, “slightly smaller than a standard two-person dorm room”) and ranges in price from $14,500 to $24,000, depending on configuration.
Each of the units, which are made at Jupe’s facility in Texas, are mounted on individual platforms (two in the case of Jupe Care and Jupe Plus). Up to 10 of the Care units can be connected side by side to make a bigger treatment area.
So why not use tents, cruise ships or containers to treat COVID-19 cases as they materialize? According to Jupe, “boats are virus traps, tents are inhumane and only one to two containers can be transported via truck at once.” By contrast, Jupe’s units can be transported 24 at a time via one truck.
At the moment, “the Jupe prototype team is set up near Redondo Beach [in California] and is building a few Rest units,” Sinclair wrote recently on Facebook, adding that another block will shortly be available in El Paso, Texas. “I’m looking for any medical professionals who can test the units and give us feedback. Please tag anyone who might be able to help.”
The need for such rapidly deployable treatment facilities, the Jupe team feels, is only to likely to grow in North America. “We will run out of ICU rooms and then need to decide who gets ventilators and support and who doesn’t,” says the firm, which is racing against the clock to make such choices moot.
Currently being tested, the sophisticated care and containment modules are designed especially for rural and remote zones.