President Donald Trump agreed Monday to allow the U.S. Navy’s 1,000-bed hospital ship Comfort to be used to treat patients with the coronavirus to relieve pressure on New York City’s extremely strained hospital system after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked for the change.
“We don’t need the Comfort for non-COVID cases, we need it for COVID,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany, N.Y. earlier Monday, when he announced he would seek Trump’s agreement.
At Monday evening’s coronavirus task force briefing Trump said the ship would be used to treat patients from New York and New Jersey.
“It is set for COVID…hopefully that will be very helpful to both states,” Trump said.
The Comfort, which is docked on Manhattan’s West Side, was not previously allowed to treat patients with coronavirus.
The ship until now has been used to treat just a handful of patients without COVID-19, leading to criticism that the ship has been of little or no help with the hospital crisis in New York. which is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
In a phone interview on MSNBC, Cuomo said that he spoke with Trump after his press conference and that the president granted permission for Comfort to accept COVID-19 patients.
Such patients will first go to an area hospital and then will be moved as needed the the Comfort.
“Our current preference, which could change at any time, given the circumstances on the ground and the request by the governor, is to see Javit’s center beds used by Covid patients before moving them to the Comfort,” Jonathan Hoffman, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, said Monday.
Trump, at a press conference Sunday evening, had said it looked more likely that the Comfort would be allowed to take patients with COVID-19 given the level of outbreak in New York.
“If we need it for the virus, we will be using it for that,” Trump said.
As of Saturday, the Comfort had just 27 patients, with more than 970 empty beds, and a crew of roughly 1,200 people. By Monday, the ship had treated 41 patients, according to DoD. Currently, 31 of them remain onboard, 16 are in ICU.
Cuomo, speaking at a press conference, “as it turned out, there’s not a lot of non-COVID people in the hospital system.”
He attributed that to a decrease in the number of auto accidents and crime as a result of a city-wide lockdown on most businesses and social-distancing efforts by area residents.
“I’m going to call the president this afternoon and ask him to shift the Comfort from non-COVID to COVID,” Cuomo said.
“Then we would have Javits [Center] and the ship Comfort as a relief valve,” he said. “That is the only way we sustain this level of intensity in the hospital system.”
A view of the USNS Comfort at the Pier 90 on April 1, 2020 in New York City. The Comfort, a naval hospital ship, is equipped to take in patients within 24 hours but will not be treating patients with COVID-19. The ship’s 1,000 beds and 12 operation rooms will help ease the pressure on New York hospitals, many of which are now overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Nancy Rivera | Bauer-Griffin | Getty Images
Using the Comfort for coronavirus patient the ship will augment the additional coronavirus capacity offered by a temporary hospital set up about a mile south in the Javits Center, a huge trade-show facility that has been outfitted with 2,500 beds.
The Javits Center also was originally slated only to be used for non-coronavirus cases. But with a surge of such cases, Cuomo had directed it to be used for infected patients.
Trump said at Sunday’s press conference that while the Comfort “was not supposed to be for the virus at all, under any circumstances … it looks like, more and more, we’re going to be using it for that.
“If we need it for the virus, we will be using it for that,” Trump said. “They’d prefer not, for obvious reasons, but if for any reason they need it, it’s ready, willing, and able.
On Friday, fewer than five patients from Javits were transferred to the Comfort, according to the Navy.
Those patients later tested positive for COVID-19.
The patients were transferred back to the Javits Center “as soon as practical,” a Navy spokesman said Sunday.
Hospital leaders in New York City have criticized the Comfort’s deployment because it does not accept COVID-19 patients.
“If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,” Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health hospital system told The New York Times earlier in the week, as his system had about 2,800 coronavirus patients.
“Everyone can say, ‘Thank you for putting up these wonderful places and opening up these cavernous halls.’ But we’re in a crisis here, we’re in a battlefield.”
As of last Friday, a similar 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship, the Mercy, had treated only 15 non-coronavirus patients in Los Angeles since arriving there a week before. The Mercy reportedly is staffed with more than 800 doctors, nurses and medical staff members.
The coronavirus has now infected more than 123,160 people in New York state and killed at least 4,159 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
More than 3,000 of those deaths were in New York City, according to Hopkins.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is producing models for the White House on the U.S. and state COVID-19 outbreaks, predicts that more than 15,600 people in New York state will die from COVID-19 by Aug. 4.
– Addtional reporting by Amanda Macias