A COVID-19 popup hospital at the downtown Dallas convention center has the potential to house more than 1,000 recovering patients, but its cost to Dallas County is still unknown.

Representatives from infrastructure firm AECOM briefed Dallas County commissioners April 7 on the support services needed to run the hospital, which is scheduled to open later this week.

Once up and running, the popup hospital will have enough space to treat between 250-1,400 COVID patients who have begun to recover but are not yet well enough to return home. The idea is to relieve pressure on area hospitals and to free up beds and ventilators, County Judge Clay Jenkins said at an April 5 press conference.

Federal resources will pay for beds and equipment as well as for the deployment of members of the U.S. Navy to serve as clinical staff; however, the county will still be responsible for covering food service, security, janitorial service, lab services, nonemergency transportation and more.

AECOM has been working to hire contractors for all of these areas and plans to have a cost estimate for commissioners to consider by April 8. Once the cost is approved, contractors can be mobilized within two days, said Dev Rastogi, a Dallas-area AECOM executive.

The convention center will not be used until area hospitals experience capacity issues; however, service providers need to be prepared for an influx of patients once they arrive, Rastogi said.

“We don’t necessarily have to start Day 1 prepared for 250 patients,” Rastogi said. “But we do have to have all the contractors and suppliers ready to deliver.”

The county can apply for reimbursement of its expenses through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Stafford Act, said Karl Jensen, AECOM executive vice president of national governments.

In most disasters, the Stafford Act would cover 75% of local government expenses; however, in this case, FEMA is working with President Donald Trump and his administration to secure a 100% reimbursement, Jensen said.

Commissioners should not hesitate in approving support services if those contracts will be reimbursed in full by the federal government, Commissioner John Wiley Price said.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it’s not on the local tab,” he said.

However, there are some expenses for which the county might be on the hook, Rastogi said, including discharge services, medical records and transportation for patients leaving the hospital.

“Those are [costs] that may need to be adjusted as use of the facility unfolds,” Rastogi said

A special called meeting will be held for commissioners to approve the contracts, County Administrator Darryl Martin said. That meeting is likely to take place Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, Martin said.