Coronavirus: Navy ship Comfort, last stationed in NY after 9/11, docks in city to ease pressure on hospitals

Coronavirus: Navy ship Comfort, last stationed in NY after 9/11, docks in city to ease pressure on hospitals
(AP Photo)

Amid a staggering number of deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic, US Navy Ship Comfort has docked in New York City — the epicenter of the outbreak in the US — to help in the ongoing crisis.

The hospital ship had previously been deployed in New York in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where it helped treat hundreds of first responders.

“Welcome to New York, @USNSComfort. We knew from the outset that expanded hospital capacity was critical. This ship is a step forward in our fight against Coronavirus,” tweeted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in New York March 30, 2020, in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response effort,” said a US Navy statement.

“The last time that this great hospital ship was here was in the wake of 9-11, where she served as respite and comfort for our first responders working around the clock. Our message to New Yorkers – now your Navy has returned, and we are with you, committed in this fight,” said Rear Admiral John Mustin, vice commander, US Fleet Forces Command, in the statement. 


Navy medical professionals at the seagoing medical treatment facility will now help local healthcare providers by offering care to non-COVID-19 patients. This will free up the much-needed space at the city’s overburdened hospitals and clinics to treat COVID-19 patients. 

“While in New York, the ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care to include general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults. This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their intensive care units and ventilators for those patients,” the statement read. 


A journalist records speakers at a briefing following the arrival of the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship with a 1,000 bed-capacity on March 30, 2020, at Pier 90 in New York  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As of March 30, the US has reported more than 164,600 infections and over 3,000 deaths, according to the John Hopkins tracker. New York City is the worst-hit where 914 have died in the pandemic so far. There are also an estimated 66,497 confirmed cases in New York State. 

“As the numbers continue to increase, the situation is becoming painfully clear that the front line battle of this virus will be fought in our healthcare system. We need more healthcare professionals, we need more supplies, we need more capacity and we need it now,” said Cuomo in a statement

With a crew of over 1,100, the USNS Comfort is equipped with 12 operating rooms, with hospital beds, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, digital radiology, a CAT scan, two oxygen-producing plants, and a helicopter deck. The ship includes Navy medical and support staff assembled from 22 commands, as well as over 70 civil service mariners.

The ship expects to start receiving patients 24 hours after arriving in New York City. Since the Confort arrived on March 30, this means it can start treating patients from March 31.

All patient transfers will be coordinated with local hospitals, thus ensuring a consistent handoff of care between medical providers. Patients will not be accepted on a walk-in basis, and should not come to the pier with any expectation that they can receive care, said officials. 

According to Verge, the ship is around 100 feet tall, the size of a 10-story building. “It has a deep draft — it displaces 70,473 tons of water — and, in many ports, it has to stand at least a mile offshore. Over 894-feet-long (272 meters), the Comfort is about the length of three football fields and can travel at a speed of 17.5 knots (20.1 mph),” it says. 


Comfort’s primary mission is to provide an afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the US military that is flexible, capable and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare. Comfort’s secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support US disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

Similar to the Comfort's mission on the East Coast, the US Navy Ship Mercy arrived in Los Angeles on March 27. The ship accepted its first patients on March 29. In Los Angeles, the ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, read a statement

Both operations are being led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with US Northern Command, Military Sealift Command, and the US Navy. 


Patients wait in line while wearing protective masks and gloves for a COVID-19 test at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn borough of New York (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Social distancing ignored

The Comfort’s arrival in New York harbor drew crowds, even as city and state officials have repeatedly asked its residents to practice social distancing and avoid large crowds to check disease transmission. 

Pictures on social media showed people crowding at Pier 90 to get photos of the ship. One tweet read, “And then there were the crowds of New Yorkers watching the USNS Comfort arrive in port today. 59,000+ cases of #COVID19 and you're still gathering in large groups. What were you thinking? Please, do the right thing and stay home!”

“The throngs of people stood shoulder to shoulder and took photos of the USNS Comfort as it pulled into Pier 90 near West 50th Street at about 10:40 am, photos of the scene show. Some waved American flags and others huddled against one another at the fence of the pier. Meanwhile, joggers out for a morning run brushed past the onlookers,” reports the New York Post. The article further says that “after members of the City Hall press corps tweeted about the crowd, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s communications team directed the NYPD to get the crowds to disperse.”


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