New York lawmakers call for deployment of Navy hospital ship to NYC amid coronavirus outbreak
A quartet of House lawmakers from New York is asking President Trump to deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City to treat noncoronavirus patients as hospitals become slammed with patients suffering from the virus.
“We write to ask that you immediately ready the naval hospital ship USNS Comfort, currently being refitted in Norfolk, VA for deployment to New York City in support of our city’s fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote to Trump and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday.
“The sight of Navy hospital ships in New York harbor, ready to assist our own frontline healthcare providers, will be a welcome one indeed,” they added. “As always, we are confident that the Navy will rise to the occasion when called upon by our nation, and we thank you in advance for your assistance.”
The letter was signed by Democratic New York Reps. Max Rose, José Serrano, Tom Suozzi and Nydia Velázquez.
As COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States, calls have increased for the U.S. military to help the country’s hospital capacity and medical supplies.
In New York state, there are more than 1,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday, with more than 800 in New York City.
The Navy operates two hospital ships, the Comfort and the Mercy, that deploy to help with relief efforts during crises, such as to Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria.
The Comfort is undergoing maintenance at its homeport in Virginia right now, while the Mercy is at its homeport in San Diego.
At a news conference Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon already ordered the Navy a few days ago to “lean forward” on preparing to deploy the hospital ships.
Esper stressed that the ships are equipped for trauma not infectious diseases, but that they could be helpful to take noncoronavirus cases from civilian hospitals.
“They don’t have necessarily the segregated the spaces you need to deal with infectious diseases, and so one of the ways by which you could use either field hospitals, the hospital ships or things in between, is to take the pressure off of civilian hospitals when it comes to trauma cases to open up civilian hospital rooms for infectious diseases,” he said.
The main issue, Esper said, is the medical personnel for the ships would have to come from other Pentagon treatment facilities or from reserve forces. Using reservists would mean taking them from civilian hospitals that may need them right now.
“What I don’t want to do is take reservists from a hospital where they are needed just to put them on a ship to take them somewhere else where they are needed,” he said. “As I’ve spoken to a couple governors today, we’ve talked a little about that, and I think people are beginning to understand what that trade off means.”
In their letter Tuesday to Trump and Gilday, the New York lawmakers argued that deploying the Comfort to the Big Apple to help with non-coronavirus patients would be “an appropriate step given the severity of this crisis and the ship’s expertise dealing with national emergencies.”
They also argued that “it is clear that our efforts to contain and treat coronavirus must focus around New York City,” which they said “is most at risk for a severe outbreak of coronavirus of any place in America” as the country’s “most populous city and financial hub.”
“The Comfort contains 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, laboratory facilities and an oxygen-producing plant,” they wrote. “Given the contagious nature of coronavirus, we suggest that the hospital facilities aboard the USNS Comfort be used to treat non-coronavirus patients and reduce the capacity of hospitals ashore. Naval personnel can also supply and assist operations onshore while using the ships as a clean operating base for relief services.”