The biggest hospital ship in the world will be heading to New York Harbor to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday. A converted oil tanker, the USNS Comfort has 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, and weighs nearly 70,000 tons.
The ship will not be for those with the virus, but is instead intended to free up hospital beds in the greater New York region by taking on non-coronavirus patients, according to USNI News. Two sources told USNI News that the idea was for the ships to provide relief for coastal hospital systems, with the ships taking on non-COVID-19 cases and allowing the hospitals to focus on the most critical patients suffering from the virus.
This is a sign of how serious the pandemic is getting, and how serious it’s expected to become.
Still, 1,000 beds (not “rooms,” as far as I can tell, as Cuomo said in his tweet) is just a fraction of what New York state will need.
Via CBS New York:
There are now more than 2,300 cases in New York state, [New York Governor Andrew Cuomo] said, with more than 1,000 new cases identified as testing ramps up.
Cuomo says the state’s priority now is increasing hospital beds and ICU capacity. Its 53,000 beds are not enough to meet peak demand expected in 45 days.
“Fifty-five thousand to 110,000 hospital beds will be needed at that point. That, my friends, is the problem,” Cuomo said.
And while 1,000 hospital beds will be a boost to the state’s efforts, the problem, officials have said previously, will be staffing the ship with medical professionals. The ship is ordinarily docked in Norfolk, Virginia, and is not staffed when not in use.
Officials will now be charged with finding doctors and nurses—some from the military, some civilian—from a healthcare system that is largely all-hands-on-deck because of the pandemic. It also will take several days for the Comfort to mobilize.
From USNI News yesterday:
Each ship has a 1,000-bed capacity and is manned by military medical personnel, requiring about a week or more to mobilize those personnel from across the active duty and reserve forces. Pentagon officials have stressed that many of the reserve medical personnel that would be called up to staff mobile hospitals or Mercy and Comfort would be partially pulled from civilian medical facilities.
“The big challenge isn’t the availability of these inventories, it’s the medical professionals. All of those doctors and nurses either come from our medical treatment facilities or they come from the reserves, which means civilians,” [Secretary of Defense Mark Esper] said.
“What I don’t want to do is take reservists from a hospital where they are needed just to put them on a ship to take them somewhere else where they’re needed.”
State officials are reaching out to retired medical workers in addition to medical schools to help with the pandemic, according to CBS New York and Cuomo.
The Comfort will presumably dock on the west side of Manhattan, which is normally full of cruise ships. Strange world keeps getting stranger.