Navy hospital ship deploying to New York to help with coronavirus crisis

Navy hospital ship deploying to New York to help with coronavirus crisis
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The Trump administration has agreed to dispatch a U.S. Navy hospital ship to New York City harbor amid the coronavirus outbreak, multiple officials said Wednesday.

“The president, I spoke to this morning, he's going to be making arrangements to send up this hospital ship, which is called the [USNS] Comfort,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said at a news conference. “It's an extraordinary step, obviously. It's literally a floating hospital, which will add capacity. And the president said he would dispatch that immediately."

At his own news conference at the White House, Trump confirmed the Comfort and another hospital ship called the Mercy are preparing to deploy. He seemingly conflated the two ships in his remarks, but appeared to mean the Comfort is deploying to New York and the Mercy to a place to be determined on the West Coast.

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“We’re sending upon request, the two hospital ships — they’re being prepared right now, they’re massive ships, they’re the big white ships with the red cross on the sides, one is called the Mercy and the other is called the Comfort, they are in tiptop shape, they soon will be, getting ready to come up to New York,” Trump said.

“I spoke with Gov. Cuomo about it, he’s excited about it. And I also — we haven’t made the final determination of where it’s going to go on the West Coast. The Comfort is located now in San Diego, and we’ll be picking the destination fairly shortly,” he added.

The Comfort is undergoing maintenance at its home port in Virginia right now, while the Mercy is at its home port in San Diego. 

“Those two ships are being prepared to go, and they can be launched over the next week or so depending on need,” Trump said.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman confirmed later Wednesday afternoon that the Comfort is intended to go to New York and the Mercy's destination is to be determined.

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Despite Trump and Cuomo's comments suggesting the deployment of the Comfort was imminent, Hoffman said the maintenance means it will be weeks before the ship is underway.

"They're going to expedite the maintenance that they can and prepare it," Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon. "That's not a days issue. That's a weeks issue, so it's going to be a little while."

The Mercy will "hopefully" be prepared to deploy "in days, not weeks," he added.

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States and fears of hospitals being overwhelmed by patients mount, calls have increased for the U.S. military to help boost the country’s hospital capacity and medical supplies.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDefense chief says states can use National Guard to enforce stay-at-home orders Overnight Defense: Aircraft carrier captain pleads for help with outbreak | Pentagon shipment of ventilators delayed | Pompeo urges countries to be more 'transparent' with virus data Pentagon has not yet sent 2,000 ventilators due to lack of shipment location MORE announced Tuesday that the Pentagon would be providing the Department of Health and Human Services with 5 million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators.

He also said he ordered the Navy to “lean forward” on preparing to deploy its hospital ships, adding at Wednesday’s White House news conference that he’s directed the hospital ships “be prepared to deploy to increase the nation’s medical capacity.”

The Comfort and the Mercy deploy to help with relief efforts during crises, such as to Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria. Each ship has a 1,000-bed capacity.

Defense officials have cautioned that the military hospital ships are designed for trauma cases, not infectious diseases. But the ships can help by taking trauma cases away from civilian hospitals, freeing beds, equipment and manpower to deal with coronavirus patients.

“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,” Esper said Tuesday.

As of Wednesday morning, 2,382 people tested positive for coronavirus in New York state, with 1,339 of those cases being in the city.

On Tuesday, a quartet of House lawmakers from New York called on Trump and the Navy to deploy the Comfort to New York City, which they described as the “most at risk for a severe outbreak of coronavirus of any place in America.”

“I’m incredibly grateful for the quick and decisive action by the President and Governor to hear our call to deploy the USNS Comfort to New York Harbor,” Rep. Max RoseMax RoseOvernight Defense: Aircraft carrier captain pleads for help with outbreak | Pentagon shipment of ventilators delayed | Pompeo urges countries to be more 'transparent' with virus data New York representative to deploy with National Guard as part of coronavirus response Democratic lawmaker on stimulus vote delay: 'There will be blood on Thomas Massie's hands' MORE (D-N.Y.), who signed Tuesday’s letter, said in a statement. “Getting ahead of the crisis and increasing capacity and hospital beds is vitally needed. The 1,000 beds, labs and additional resources aboard this ship will be a huge help in our efforts.”

Updated at 2:43 p.m.