As hospitals were overrun by coronavirus patients in other parts of the world, the Army Corps of Engineers mobilized in the U.S., hiring private contractors to build emergency field hospitals around the country.
The endeavor cost more than $660 million, according to an NPR analysis of federal spending records.
But nearly four months into the pandemic, most of these facilities haven't treated a single patient.
Public health experts said this episode exposes how ill-prepared the U.S. is for a pandemic. They praised the Army Corps for quickly providing thousands of extra beds, but experts said there wasn't enough planning to make sure these field hospitals could be put to use once they were finished.
"It's so painful because what it's showing is that the plans we have in place, they don't work," said Robyn Gershon, a professor at New York University's School of Global Public Health. "We have to go back to the drawing board and redo it."
But the nation's governors — who requested the Army Corps projects and, in some cases, contributed state funding — said they're relieved these facilities didn't get more use. They said early models predicted a catastrophic shortage of hospital beds, and no one knew for sure when or if stay-at-home orders would reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
"All those field hospitals and available beds sit empty today," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said last month. "And that's a very, very good thing."