Citizen Architect - Molly M. Scanlon, FAIA

Citizen Architects began engaging with local, state, and federal authorities and the medical community before  World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic—and even before it hit the United States. Molly M. Scanlon is one of three Citizen Architects advising government officials about how to increase hospital-bed capacity, contain the virus, and keep millions of Americans safe at home.

The calls started coming in January: Individual medical practitioners wanted to know how they could prepare if COVID-19 reached the United States.

“Our design community was right behind the healthcare sector, going institution by institution to create plans to shore up infrastructure for surge bed capacity,” said Dr. Molly M. Scanlon, FAIA, Phigenics’ director of standards, compliance, and research. “Now the drumbeat is palpable, and we are hearing about inquiries from around the world. This is not a natural disaster, but this pandemic is comparable to a 1,000-year flood.”

Over the last months, Scanlon also has engaged with local, state, and federal authorities. She now chairs AIA’s COVID-19 task force for health, which was launched on March 26. The task force is working to inform government officials about COVID-19 responses for the built environment. It has outlined three problems it will tackle with policymakers:

  • What alternative care sites are appropriate for COVID-19 response?
  • How can the physical environments in which frontline healthcare personnel work be improved?
  • What practices are best for behavioral health and marginalized communities?

The immediate need, of course, is to quickly bring online alternative care venues that both house patients and reduce the likelihood of virus transmission. Scanlon emphasized that these sites cannot look like the emergency shelters government officials typically deploy during wartime or after a hurricane or flood. “You cannot simply put bed next to bed next to bed,” Scanlon explained. “The virus will spread rapidly in those conditions.” (Scanlon notes officials in Iran are depending on those old shelter models.) An expert in how to control waterborne pathogens, Scanlon also noted that mayors and other local agencies must be aware of the potential water quality and sanitation issues associated with bringing unoccupied or dormant sites back online.

As told to Kerrie Rushton

Image credits

Molly M. Scalon, FAIA

Molly M. Scalon, FAIA