Health and Science

Trump allows coronavirus patients on Navy ship Comfort in New York after Cuomo asks

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump agreed to allow the U.S. Navy's 1,000-bed hospital ship Comfort to be used to treat patients with the coronavirus.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted the Comfort in that role to relieve pressure on New York City's hospital system, which is dealing with thousands of COVID-19 cases.
  • New York City is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
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NY Gov. Cuomo says we need Navy ship Comfort for coronavirus patients

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 strained hospital system

"We don't need the Comfort for non-COVID cases, we need it for COVID," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany, N.Y. earlier Monday, when he announced he would ask Trump to let the ship take that role.

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, previously was deployed to the Big Apple with the understand that it would not 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. The state is 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 own press conference and that the president granted permission for Comfort to accept COVID-19 patients.

Those patients will first go to an area hospital and then will be moved as needed to the Comfort. 

 A Defense Department official told NBC News that the Comfort is "ready immediately" to begin accepting coronavirus patients. 

The Javits Center, a huge trade-show complex about a mile south of the ship, several days ago began accepting coronavirus patients in a makeshift 2,500-bed hospital set up there.

Jonathan Hoffmanassistant defense secretary for public affairs, said, "Our current preference, which could change at any time, given the circumstances on the ground and the request by the governor, is to see Javits Center beds used by COVID patients before moving them to the Comfort."

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 Monday, the Comfort's crew, which numbers roughly 1,200 people, had treated just 41 patients on the 1,000-bed vessel patients,  according to the Defense Department.  A total of 31 patients remain onboard, 16 of whom are in an intensive care unit.

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 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

The Javits Center, like the Comfort, 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 had  earlier criticized the Comfort's deployment after it became clear that it would not accept COVID-19 patients before Monday's announcement.

"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. At the time, Dowling's 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