At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitals, including Memorial Hospital, pitched tents outside their emergency departments to accommodate a surge in coronavirus patients.

But this week, in lieu of a tent Memorial Hospital set up a brand-new temporary building in the parking lot outside the emergency department.

Local hospitals are beginning to roll out their surge plans as COVID continues to rise in Kern County. There are 348 patients in county hospitals, a 17 percent increase from the week before, according to state data. Of those, 73 are in intensive care units, a 20 percent increase from last week. Based on county estimates, 1 in 33 residents has active cases of COVID.

The county health department said there are still no immediate plans to open the Kern County Fairgrounds as an alternative care center, but it is able to be up and running within 48 hours notice.

For now, it is hospitals preparing for a surge.

Memorial Hospital’s new modular building is a sturdy 40- by 60-foot design with easy-to-clean vinyl flooring and rooms partitioned for patients, according to Justin Sharp, the director of facilities.

Patients can be registered, triaged, wait and receive care. There are 10 exam rooms, each with their very own dual AC/heating unit. There is also a room for lab draws, a clean and dirty utility rooms and an X-ray room that allows a machine to face away from all the other units. There will be an EKG machine.

“We had a lot of motivation to migrate to this,” explained CEO Ken Keller.

It’s a better working environment for patients and nurses and doctors who aren’t exposed to the elements as they were in a tent.

“It provides a much better environment of care,” he said. “You can control the air, the light all much better.”

It also takes pressure off the main lobby. Keller said they’ve used tents to do this in past flu seasons to help discharge patients quickly.

The building will be the second stop for patients who do not have COVID. All patients at Memorial Hospital will come in through a “quick look.” The patients identified as having a serious condition, COVID or symptoms of COVID will be brought into the main hospital.

Others with lower-intensity health issues will be ferried to this new modular building.

At the entrance, there is a waiting room for patients, a registration room and two triage rooms.

Triage serves as a way to sort patients, and if someone requires a higher level of care, they may be moved to the main hospital.

The purpose of the building is to see the rush of patients that come during peak times during a surge, explained Michelle Caton-Wheeler, director of emergency services. It’s not for inpatient care; at 11 p.m., anyone who is left in the building will be moved to the main hospital.

Before it can open, the California Department of Public Health is scheduled to come by for an inspection today. It should be ready to use shortly after, and Keller said the hospital may use it all the way until May.

CEO of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital James Suver said the hospital had activated its surge plans due to a rise in COVID patient volume.

Adventist Health Bakersfield has prepared two tents outside its Emergency Department, where patients experiencing respiratory symptoms are triaged so they can be socially distanced, according to spokesperson Megan Simpson.

“The tents are heated and equipped as a care area with patient safety and comfort in mind,” she said in a statement.

Health care providers continued to remind residents to wear a mask, wash their hands and watch their distance.

“We know from previous holiday weekends during the pandemic there has been an increased spread of COVID-19 following large groups of family and friend gatherings,” Heather Van Housen, patient care executive for Adventist Health Bakersfield, said in a statement.

“We know people want to come together and visit during Christmas. But, right now, it’s also extremely important that we do so by adhering to the published safety guidelines.”