USNS Comfort hospital ship to treat COVID-19 patients, Cuomo says

USNS Comfort, escorted by Coast Guard, NYPD and FDNY boats, arrives in New York City, March 30, 2020. ( U.S. Coast Guard )

The Navy hospital ship that has treated only a handful of non-COVID patients since docking on the West Side of Manhattan a week ago will shift its mission to treating patients with the coronavirus, officials said on Monday.

President Trump authorized the USNS Comfort to start accepting COVID-19 patients, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday evening.

"This will provide much-needed relief to our over stressed hospital systems," the governor tweeted.

Originally, the military said the ship would provide "a full spectrum of medical care to include general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults" so that local hospitals could focus on COVID patients and not have to use ICUs and ventilators for patients that aren't infected with the coronavirus.

In reality, few cases were being referred to the Navy facility. Most elective surgeries have been canceled. Crime and accidents are down so hospitals are seeing fewer trauma patients. But COVID-19 is overwhelming the facilities.

"This is a hospital system where we have the foot to the floor and the engine is at red line and you can't go any faster," Cuomo said at a news conference on Monday. "And, by the way, you can't stay at red line for any period of time or the system will blow."

The governor said he spoke to the president and asked for the go-ahead to send COVID patients to the hospital ship.

"The president spoke to the Department of Defense and granted that request to use the Navy ship Comfort for COVID patients. So, that's an additional 1,000 beds with federal personnel managing that ship," Cuomo said in a statement. "Between the 2,500 at the Javits Center and the 1,000 beds of the Comfort, that should be a major, major relief system for already-overtaxed hospital system."

Also on Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the president approved tranferring some patients from New Jersey to the Comfort although it wasn't clear if the governor meant COVID or non-COVID patients.

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