Navy to send hospital ship, USNS Comfort, to New York City

Alice Massimi
March 18, 2020 - 11:57 am
 USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) returns to Naval Station Norfolk after a five month deployment.

Seaman Dan Serianni

The USNS Comfort, a US Navy hospital ship, is headed to New York City Harbor to help with the growing healthcare crisis due to the coronavirus. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement during a press conference Wednesday. 

But, while Cuomo said the ship would be headed to NYC immediately, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan R. Hoffman said it would probably be a couple of weeks. 

"Timing-wise that's a little more difficult. The Comfort is currently in for maintenance. They're going to expedite the maintenance. That's not a days issue that's a weeks issue. So it's going to be a little while."

As explained by Defense Secretary Mark Esper during a press briefing Tuesday, the Comfort is focused on treating trauma rather than infectious disease. 

According to the USNS Comfort's website, it "has the capacity to provide afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facilities to the U.S. military, and is an optimal platform to provide hospital services in support of U.S. humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations worldwide."

"Our capabilities are focused on trauma so whether it is our field hospitals or hospital ships they are focused on trauma. They don't have the space, the segregated space, you need to deal with infectious diseases," explained Esper. 

The USNS Comfort, whose homeport is Norfolk, VA has been deployed throughout the world. Most recently it offered healthcare support to Venezuela during its political and economic crises. 

During a press conference Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced it is not known yet where the USNS Mercy, which is based on the west coast, will be deployed. 

Field hospitals will also soon be sent throughout the country. Cuomo said the state is working closely with the Department of Defense in regard to where it would be most beneficial to place the hospitals. According to Esper, the best location is near existing hospitals so if people come in with trauma they can go to the field hospitals. 

Esper said one of the ways they are looking to use hospital ships and field hospitals is to "take the pressure off civilian hospitals when it comes to trauma cases to open up civilian hospital rooms for infectious diseases." 

But Esper warned Tuesday that as we discuss field hospitals and activating National Guard and Reserve units we need to be mindful of the impact that will have on local communities. 

"All those doctors and nurses come from our medical treatment facilities or they come from the reserves which means civilians so what we need to be very conscious of as we call up these units and use them to support the states that we aren't robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Esper.  

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