Honda is lending 10 of its specially modified Odyssey minivans to Detroit in an effort to help the hard-hit city safely transport people who may be infected with the coronavirus for testing.
Honda delivered the minivans Tuesday. They've been retrofitted with a clear and airtight plastic panel between the front and rear seats by removing the hand grips on the B-pillar and replacing them with brackets, and with a second bracket added to the lower front seat belt anchor point for a total of three attachments on each side. Honda also tweaked the ventilation system to maintain an air pressure differential between the front and rear compartments and minimize the chances for infected droplets to migrate between the two during transport.
Officials from Detroit and the state of Michigan asked Honda about the special minivans after seeing reports about similarly modified Odyssey and Step WGN minivans in Japan that Honda is using to transport patients to hospitals and quarantine facilities. The work on the eight-seat U.S. versions of the Odyssey, which are larger than the version sold in Japan, was done at Honda’s R&D facility in Raymond, Ohio, where the minivan was originally developed, by a team of volunteers in less than two weeks.
Toyota has also designed a similarly modified vehicle for transporting seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Japan, using a Hiace van with an exhaust fan continuously expelling air from the rear compartment.
Few U.S. cities have been as hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak as Detroit, which had nearly 9,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday and more than 1,000 deaths. The city has established a large drive-through testing program at the vacant site of the former Michigan State Fairgrounds and says it has so far conducted more than 20,000 tests on residents and employees.