USNS Comfort slammed as a joke after only 20 non-coronavirus patients taken by medical ship supposed to help NYC

The 1,000-bed ship reached the Big Apple on March 30 but its contribution to the battle against the pandemic has been negligible


                            USNS Comfort slammed as a joke after only 20 non-coronavirus patients taken by medical ship supposed to help NYC
USNS Comfort (Getty Images)

Late March, President Donald Trump said he would kiss the USNS Comfort goodbye in Norfolk, Virginia, before it headed for New York City to aid the battle against the coronavirus pandemic that has seriously hurt the city. On March 30, the floating hospital made its destination but since then, its role has been less than satisfactory, thanks to red-tapism.

According to a report in Daily Mail, a top health executive in New York has blasted the red tape on the ship as it has accepted only 20 patients on board in the first four days after arrival. Twenty patients were treated on board on Thursday, April 2. New York City has so far witnessed 1,562 deaths and its hospitals and morgues are struggling to cope with the growing number of corpses. New York has over 51,000 affected people while in the entire US, the number has gone past 245,540. The national death toll is over 6,053.

USNS Comfort was supposed to supply the Big Apple with both medical staff and equipment like beds as the city has faced inadequate facilities to cope with the massive outbreak. The state has found itself in a debate with the federal government over lack of medical supplies and Comfort was expected to bridge the gap. 

It's a joke, says head of NY's biggest hospital system

But strict protocol has come up as a hurdle between the expectation and reality. The ship features 1,000 beds but most have remained empty so far since it has not just refused coronavirus patients but also those with other conditions. While Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health — NY’s biggest hospital system — has called the restrictions a ‘joke’, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the ship should start accepting coronavirus patients.

Cuomo welcomed Comfort’s arrival earlier this week and said previously that COVID-19 patients will not be treated on board but other patients will be shifted to the vessel so that the city’s overburdened hospitals can have space for coronavirus patients.

'If I'm blunt about it, it's a joke,' Dowling was by the New York Times. "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,” he was quoted as saying. 

Another top official of the city — Mayor Bill de Blasio — on April 2 asked President Trump to start a national enlistment that would send medical experts from other states to the frontline of the disaster.
 
The USNS Comfort has nearly 1,200 crew aboard but the members are sitting idle because of the lack of patients. A similar situation was seen in Los Angeles where USNS Mercy welcomed only 15 patients.

Comfort's captain Patrick Amersbach, however, expressed optimism while talking to reporters. He said the number of patients would increase soon. 

It was not just the political and hospital leaders who were excited to see the vessel reaching New York City. Local residents came out in large numbers on March 30 to witness the big white vessel anchoring itself at the Manhattan dock, openly flouting the social-distancing guidelines that the authorities are pushing them to adhere to.

It was even reported that besides the ship's refusal to take coronavirus patients, the Navy has sent the hospitals a list of 49 other medical conditions that will not be treated aboard Comfort. Also the rules around transferring patients who are suitable have delayed things as none can be sent directly to the mobile hospital without visiting a hospital first.

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