A navy hospital ship will be deployed to New York to help the state deal with its ballooning coronavirus caseload, which it expects to surge in the coming months. The ship, named the USNS Comfort, will be anchored in the New York Harbor in mid-April, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Wednesday morning. Cuomo said the ship has approximately 1,000 beds, as well as multiple operating rooms.
“This will be an extraordinary step,” Cuomo said during the press conference. “It’s literally a floating hospital, which will add capacity.”
According to the governor, the state’s number of COVID-19 patients is expected to swell to more than 110,000 within the next 45 days if the current infection rate does not let up. Currently, New York state only has 53,000 beds, 37,000 ICU units and 3,000 ventilators.
Jonathan Rath Hoffman, a Defense Department spokesman, said the ship’s exact arrival is still unknown as it is still docked in Norfolk, Virginia, for maintenance and won’t be ready to leave for “a little while.” Hoffman added, however, that the Navy is being asked to “expedite” the maintenance.
Hoffman, during a press conference at the Pentagon, said the military will be sending the USNS Comfort and its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, to locations where hospitals could become overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
Both ships are to be staffed by 71 civilians and up to 1,200 sailors each, according to a statement released by the Navy. Both ships include 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed hospital, a medical laboratory, and a pharmacy. The ships also have helicopter decks for transport.
The USNS Comfort and its West Coast twin the USNS Mercy, are the largest hospital ships in the world, being nearly three football fields long and 10 stories high.
However, the ships’ personnel are trained for combat casualty care; not treating contagious diseases like the coronavirus.
“Our capabilities are focused on trauma. Whether it’s our field hospitals, whether it’s our hospital ships…they don’t necessarily have the segregated space as you need to deal with infectious diseases,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at the Pentagon.
According to Esper, the two ships will be used as backup hospitals and will treat non-coronavirus cases to prevent hospitals — some of which are already stretched too thin from dealing with the coronavirus — from becoming overwhelmed. (Related: Up to 86 percent of people walking around with the coronavirus don’t even know they have it (because they show no symptoms).)
“One of the ways by which you can use either field hospitals, hospital ships, or things in between, is to take the pressure off of civilian hospitals when it comes to trauma cases, and open up civilian hospital rooms for infectious diseases,” he added.
In addition to sending the ships, Cuomo said President Donald Trump also proposed sending “mobile hospitals” with a capacity of between 200 and 250 people to New York.
“Trump is fully engaged in trying to help New York. He is being very creative and very energetic and I thank him for his partnership,” Cuomo, who once traded barbs with the president, said.
“We’re fighting the same war, and this is a war, and we’re in the same trench, and I have your back and you have my back, and we’re going to do everything we can for the people of the State of New York,” Cuomo said, in reference to his often-rocky working relationship with the president.
Cuomo, meanwhile, remains resolute in not enforcing a shelter-in-place ordinance for New York City, despite city Mayor Bill de Blasio telling residents to prepare for one.
“That is not going to happen, shelter in place, for New York City. For any city or county to take emergency action, the state has to approve it. And I wouldn’t approve shelter in place,” Cuomo said during an interview on The New York Times podcast.
According to Cuomo, “drastic policies” such as that would only create more fear among residents amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
New York currently has one of the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States, with 2,382 confirmed coronavirus cases, of which 1,339 are in New York City. At least 20 deaths in the state have been linked to the virus. The statewide hospitalization rate is around 23 percent.
As of this writing, 214,894 have been confirmed to be infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus globally, while 8,732 have been confirmed dead.
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