Mostly empty USNS Comfort relaxes coronavirus screening to admit more patients

Elizabeth Howe
April 06, 2020 - 12:39 pm
USNS Comfort


After scathing reports of an almost entirely empty USNS Comfort docked in New York, the hospital ship has announced it will relax health screening measures to help clear the backlog of patients awaiting admittance — but New York's governor Andrew Cuomo has argued that that's not enough.

Providing Comfort and Mercy during the coronavirus outbreak

As of Friday morning, the USNS Comfort — which has 1,000 hospital beds on board — had admitted 20 patients, according to The New York Times

Part of the backlog is attributed to screening measures. The USNS Comfort was never meant to treat COVID-19 patients — rather it was sent to New York to offload COVID-19 negative patients from local hospitals, thus freeing up hospital beds for those being treated for the virus. But screening and testing patients to ensure they are COVID-19 negative before being allowed aboard the vessel is creating a backlog. 

"Screening for care on the USNS Comfort will be modified and will now occur pier-side in an effort to reduce the backlog at some of the nearby New York hospitals," a Department of Defense press release read. "The screening effort for the USNS Comfort will no longer require a negative test, but each patient will still be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire."

The same screening measures being implemented for USNS Comfort — temperature checks and health screening questionnaires — have been unsuccessful in preventing COVID-19 from penetrating other military operations such as basic training programs. Recruits from around the world traveling to basic training sites undergo multiple rounds of this type of screening. Still, every branch has now confirmed cases of COVID-19 among recruits. 

COVID-19 prevention efforts at basic trainings are failing

In the Marine Corps's case, recruits passed temperature checks and health screening questionnaires only to test positive for COVID-19 weeks later. 

"This assistance will further unburden the local hospital and ambulance systems in these areas, allowing them to focus on the more serious COVID-19 cases," the Department of Defense's release continues. "We will immediately implement this action and work with local officials in each area on the details of patient arrival."

Still, clearing the backlog is not enough according to Cuomo. Reports from CNN indicate that Cuomo will soon ask President Donald Trump to do away with screening measures completely and open the USNS Comfort to COVID-19 patients. 

Department of Defense senior officials have been adamant for weeks that the physical set-up and the technical training of its military facilities and personnel are not ideally suited to treat infectious diseases. 

As of Monday morning, the DoD had 2,528 confirmed COVID-19 cases across the force. This includes 1,435 active duty service members. According to data from Johns Hopkins, New York City currently accounts for roughly a third of the country's overall coronavirus-related death toll of 9,683.

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