Could Empty Malls Come to Rescue for Coronavirus Victims?

March 25, 2020

The number of COVID-19 cases across the nation continues to spread rapidly. As of Wednesday morning, 54,968 coronavirus cases were confirmed in the U.S. The nation’s medical community has suggested fears of running out of hospital beds if cases continue to grow fast. Also, questions remain over how to quarantine patients so they don’t infect others.

Brandon Hardin, a National Association of REALTORS® research economist, proposes a solution at the association’s Economists’ Outlook blog: Use empty malls to house the sick.

“Vacant retail malls are suited to provide this demand for a larger space in an urbanized area to serve as a temporary hospital or health care armory,” Hardin writes. “Shopping centers, both fully vacant and partially vacant, have close proximity to people, and their large [square] footage can handle large cases as mobile hospital units, emergency mask production, storage of basic goods, etc.”

The calls for more space are already coming in from the hardest-hit states, including New York and California. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York needs 50,000 extra hospital beds. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked for a naval hospital with 1,000 beds.

In 2019, 9,350 stores closed, according to Coresight Research, a firm that tracks store closures. Anchor stores that have vacated U.S. malls offer large empty spaces that often remain vacant for long periods before a new tenant is found, Hardin notes. “These vacant malls can, in the meantime, be used as health care armories,” he says.

“Vacant retail malls provide the physical infrastructure needed to win this battle against the coronavirus outbreak and future epidemics and pandemics,” Hardin continues. “These vacant malls can be temporarily utilized as health care emergency armories, and even permanently become health care hospices, medical facilities, science centers, or health facilities to serve the needs of aging baby boomers.”

Using Vacant Malls as Coronavirus Health Care Emergency Armories,” National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook blog (March 24, 2020)