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Navy hospital ship won’t be ready to help New York for weeks, Pentagon says

The hospital ship USNS Comfort is anchored off the coast of La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago as the ship prepares for a five-day medical mission.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Morgan Nall | US Navy

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Wednesday that a Navy hospital ship intended to help New York hospitals dealing with a rapidly expanding load of coronavirus cases will not be ready for weeks.

Earlier Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said President Donald Trump agreed to send the USNS Comfort hospital ship to help with coronavirus cases, expected to surge in the next 45 days.

“The Comfort is currently in for maintenance in Norfolk, so they are going to expedite the maintenance if they can and prepare it,” explained Jonathan Hoffman, assistant defense secretary for public affairs. “That’s not a days issue, that is a weeks issue. So it’s gonna be a little while,” he added.

It was unclear whether the Comfort’s twin, the USNS Mercy, would also head to New York.

The Comfort and the Mercy are nearly three football fields long and 10 stories high, making them indisputably the largest hospital ships in the world. The Comfort’s home port is Norfolk, Virginia, and the Mercy’s is San Diego, California.

“With regard to the Mercy, the Mercy will be prepared and ready to go much sooner, it has had a warning order to get ready for the last few days, so they are hopefully going to be able to go in days, not weeks,” Hoffman said. 

The vessels, which were transformed from hulking oil tankers into 1,000-bed hospital ships, are equipped with 12 operating rooms, a blood bank, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab and a CAT-scan.

Both ships have side ports to take on patients at sea as well as helicopter decks for air transport. The ships are so massive, each would be tantamount to the fourth-biggest hospital in the U.S. 

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

Source: US Navy

Cuomo on Wednesday warned that coronavirus cases threaten to overwhelm the state’s hospital bed capacity.

“Right now, in New York specifically, the rate of the curve suggests that in 45 days we could have up to an input of people who need 110,000 beds; that compares to our current capacity of 53,000 beds,” Cuomo said Wednesday at a press conference in Albany.

As of Wednesday morning, the number of people infected with the coronavirus in New York state rose to more than 2,300, he added. Of those cases, nearly 23% are hospitalized.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. military would provide up to 5 million respirator masks and other items of personal protective equipment to responders, as well as up to 2,000 specialized ventilators. He added that the U.S. government would need to seek support from industry on procuring more ventilators.

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