U.S. President Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that the USNS Comfort and its West Coast twin the USNS Mercy would begin duty immediately, each adding an extra 1,000 hospital beds.
Comfort will be designated to New York City and Mercy will probably go to San Diego.
The boats started life as oil tankers before being converted into the largest floating hospitals in the country, at nearly three football fields long and 10 stories high.
On Thursday, at the Pentagon, officials said both ships are being prepared for deployment “as needed to assist potentially overwhelmed communities with acute patient care,” according to Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the defense secretary for public affairs. He was joined at the briefing by Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon.
The Comfort is now in Norfolk, Virginia, for maintenance, and the Navy has been asked to expedite that, Hoffman said, adding that it may take “a little while” for that ship to be ready to go. It will go to New York when its maintenance is complete.
The Mercy is on the West Coast and is ready to go in “days, not weeks,” he said, and where it will go will be determined when it’s ready to sail.
“Our understanding is that the intent is the ships will be used to take non-coronavirus patients, which is what our staffs are best assigned and organized to do,” Dr. Friedrichs said.
Hoffman also said that as of 5 a.m. on Thursday, 49 military personnel, 14 civilian employees, 19 military family members and seven contractors had confirmed cases of coronavirus.
On Wednesday, 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 safeguard front-line responders, as well as up to 2,000 specialized ventilators.
“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, 37,000 ICU units, ventilators, which compares to a capacity currently of 3,000 ventilators. That’s our main issue,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany.
According to the Navy’s fact sheet about the ship, when activated, Comfort can transition to full operating status in five days.
The ship is operated, navigated and maintained by a crew of civil service mariners working for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Comfort’s Medical Treatment Facility is crewed and maintained by medical personnel from the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
Comfort is the second of two Mercy-class hospital ships. A converted San Clemente-class
supertanker, Comfort delivered to the Navy’s Military Sealift Command Dec.1, 1987.
Military Sealift Command operates approximately 110 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, chart ocean bottoms, conduct undersea surveillance, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military equipment and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.
USNS Comfort Recent Missions:
• Continuing Promise – From April – July 2009, USNS Comfort served as the platform for humanitarian and civic assistance missions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Antigua and
Barbuda, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. During the mission, more than 100,000 patients were treated.
• Partnership for the Americas – From June – Oct. 2007, Comfort conducted a four-month humanitarian assistance mission to Latin America and the Caribbean that treated more than 98,000 people in 12 countries. For this unique mission, the ship’s hospital was staffed by medical professionals from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Public Health Service as well as Canadian troops and civilian volunteers from a number of nonprofit organizations.
• Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – From Sept. – Oct. 2005, Comfort deployed to provide medical assistance to the Gulf Coast following the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. During 12 days in Pascagoula, Miss., Comfort’s medical crew provided treatment to nearly 1,500 people. The ship then pulled into New Orleans, La., and provided care to residents and emergency workers.
• Operation Iraqi Freedom – From Jan. – June 2003, Comfort deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During 56 days in the Persian Gulf, Comfort served as an afloat trauma center and provided expert medical care to nearly 700 people including wounded U.S. military personnel as well as about 200 injured Iraqi civilians.
• Operation Noble Eagle – Comfort activated the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, in response to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. From Sept. 14 – Oct. 1, Comfort was pierside in Manhattan where the ship’s crew provided meals, housing, medical and psychological services to volunteer and relief workers at ground zero.
• Operation Uphold Democracy – From Sept. – Oct. 1994, Comfort deployed to provide combat surgical support for U.S. contingency operations in Haiti off the city of Port-Au-Prince. Comfort medical personnel provided a 250-bed hospital facility for the 35,000 Cuban and Haitian migrants and assisted in an effort to rebuild the local health care system.
• Operation Sea Signal – From June – Aug. 1994, Comfort arrived at Kingston, Jamaica to function as the first-ever U.S. afloat migrant processing center for Haitian migrants. Comfort provided basic support services, and the medical crew aboard the ship established one operating room and a 50-bed inpatient capability.
• Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm – From Aug. 1990 – April 1991, Comfort
deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations to treat wounded U.S. military
personnel. The ship’s medical personnel saw more than 8,000 outpatients, admitted 700
inpatients and performed 337 complex surgical procedures that could not have been done in combat hospitals ashore.