Navy hospital ship to treat coronavirus patients after outcry
A Navy hospital ship originally dispatched to New York to treat patients who haven’t been infected by the coronavirus will now take in individuals who have contracted the deadly virus, following outcry over hundreds of empty beds on the vessel.
The Comfort, docked in New York harbor, has some 1,000 available beds but has only treated 41 patients since it reached the city last week.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced on Monday that President Trump has agreed to the city’s request to treat coronavirus-infected patients aboard the USNS Comfort.
The switch “will provide much-needed relief to our over stressed hospital systems,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter.
The announcement came shortly before Trump confirmed the change.
“[Cuomo] called me up a little while ago and asked if it would be possible to use the ship with respect to fighting the virus,” Trump said at a daily White House briefing on the coronavirus. “We hadn’t had that in mind at all but we’re going to let him do it.”
The president added that New Jersey will also use the Comfort “because New Jersey is also a hot spot.”
“It’s a big ship and it’s now COVID, it’s set for COVID and we are going to, hopefully, that will be very helpful to both states,” Trump said.
Cuomo earlier on Monday said he would ask Trump to shift the use of the ship.
The Pentagon since last week has moved to loosen its screening process for individuals to get treated aboard the ships after intense criticism over the ships being too slow in admitting patients.
With the Comfort, ambulances were first required to take patients to a hospital where they were screened for coronavirus and then referred to the ship, but that practice was dropped and ambulances now go directly to the vessel.
Earlier on Monday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the Comfort will accept “trauma, emergency and urgent care patients irrespective of their COVID status.”
“Our current preference — which could change at any time given the circumstances on the ground and the request by the governor — is to see Javits Center beds used by COVID patients before moving them to the Comfort,” Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon, referring to the 1,700-bed field hospital being set up at the New York convention center.
Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs said the two hospital ships — the USNS Mercy in Los Angeles and the Comfort in New York — are “treating whatever patient is sent to us.”
“Have we had patients who ultimately were determined to have coronavirus on the hospital ships? Yes,” he told reporters alongside Hoffman.