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Sandy Journal

Expo center in Sandy played major role in community’s pandemic response

Jun 14, 2021 11:20AM ● By Heather Lawrence

A backup hospital was the first role the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy played during the pandemic in spring 2020. Thankfully, it never had to be utilized. (Joe Dougherty/Utah Division of Emergency Management)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

The Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy played a major role in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility was set up as an overflow hospital in spring and summer 2020, used as a recruitment center for vaccine trials and became a vaccination administration location in January 2021. 

“When you look at the resources you have in a community, it’s always important to have a facility like the expo center available because it’s so versatile and it’s very large,” said Joe Dougherty with the Utah Department of Public Safety. Dougherty is a spokesperson for the state’s COVID-19 response team. 

The expo center, located at 9575 S. State St., is owned by Salt Lake County. With 260,000 square feet of available space, it’s hosted the Festival of Trees, the Days of ’47 Float preview, home improvement expos, dance recitals, sporting good shows and gem sales, and the Utah Bar exam. 

“When we were preparing for the pandemic and possible high case numbers, we looked at a worst case scenario. We needed somewhere we could possibly transfer patients from a traditional hospital to a field hospital,” Dougherty said. 

The contingency hospital was set up from April until July 2020. After that, the materials including cots and medical supplies were packed up and stored on site. Dougherty said if the need arose, the hospital could be reassembled and ready within 12 hours. 

Thankfully, even when hospital capacity in Utah was at its peak in November and December 2020, the overflow site never needed to be used.   

“We were close, but we never needed to use it. It helped us all sleep a little easier knowing we had the resource,” Dougherty said. 

The next use of the expo center was vaccine trials. Two local chemical and pharmaceutical research companies, Velocity and Synexus, were contracted through Operation Warp Speed to conduct clinical trials. 

The companies set up a total of eight trailers in the expo center parking lot. They advertised trial participation on the trailers, and inside they administered vaccines and placebos, followed up with participants and treated any mild side effects. 

“It was rented out by the Department of Defense, and they rented space in the parking lot just like any other company or event would. I believe they were running AstraZeneca and Novavax trials,” said facility director Rick Medina.   

In January, the expo center became a vaccination site when the Salt Lake County Health Department began vaccinating residents age 70 and older. That was eventually opened up to younger ages, and as of June all residents age 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated at no charge through the health department. 

“As of May 6, 106,244 total vaccines have been distributed at Mountain America Expo Center,” said Gabriel Moreno of the Salt Lake County Health Department. But Moreno said the actual number of doses given at the expo center is likely even higher. 

“Originally, we used our own vaccine management software that handles immunizations at our clinics. We switched to the state’s software on March 1, which is designed to handle a higher amount of traffic. Before March 1, we provided about 56,000 vaccines, and the Mountain America Expo Center site provided a majority of those,” Moreno said.  

Sandy City Council member Brooke Christensen said she is proud of the role Sandy played over the past year and what the residents here accomplished.  

“The Mountain American Expo Center served a pivotal role in the county’s pandemic response. It’s easily accessible, and the size offers ample space for serving thousands of individuals while still maintaining social distance,” Christensen said.  

“We’re proud of many of the events the expo center has hosted. But we are even more proud that the city could assist the county during this health crisis. 

“Sandy has giving residents who volunteered to make this, and many other pandemic-related operations, run smoothly. We are a city that truly cares about each other, and willingly steps up to help those in need,” Christensen said.