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Pentagon may treat coronavirus patients aboard Navy hospital ship

Pentagon may treat coronavirus patients aboard Navy hospital ship
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperBiden needs to fill the leadership gaps on Day One US meets troops reduction goal in Afghanistan, Iraq Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE is looking at the possibility of treating coronavirus patients aboard the Navy hospital ship docked in New York City, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said Friday.

The 1,000-bed USNS Comfort, which was meant to treat non-COVID-19 patients as a way to take pressure off local hospitals, has treated only a few dozen patients since it docked in the city harbor Monday. 

Meanwhile, the USNS Mercy hospital ship docked in Los Angeles has treated even fewer patients.

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Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said switching to also treat COVID-19 infected patients on both ships is “something we’re looking at,” though Pentagon leadership is “very well aware of the risks in doing that.”

“We’ve all seen what happens on some of these ships like the cruise ships ... it’s not an environment built for handling infectious diseases en masse,” Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.

He later added that such a decision is “not imminent.”

The Pentagon earlier Friday announced that the Comfort had loosened its screening process for patients to get on board after criticism that the ship has been too slow in admitting patients.

Before the changes, ambulances were required to take patients to a hospital first where they were screened for coronavirus and then referred to the ship.

Hoffman said the Pentagon changed the operating process so that ambulances now go directly to the Comfort.

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“We expect that will increase the number [of patients],” Hoffman said of the new procedure.

Hoffman also said there have been fewer patients than expected on both ships due to the vessels arriving at their respective cities ahead of need.

Should coronavirus patients be treated on the Comfort, Hoffman said it would be “very difficult” to keep the virus from the infected patients, and the “likelihood of infection of our doctors goes up.”