With the continued spread of Covid-19 across the country, the Pentagon has dispatched both of its hospital ships to act as relief valves for an otherwise strained healthcare system.
The USNS Mercy is currently docked in Los Angeles, while the USNS Comfort is steaming towards New York City. Both of the ships will be seeing non-Covid-19 patients, leaving local hospitals freer to respond to the viral outbreak.
“People will be coming out of hospitals who don’t have the virus and they’ll be on the ship where they have great operating rooms and great facilities,” said President Donald Trump while speaking during the departure ceremony for the USNS Comfort on Saturday.
“By serving these emergency patients away from the hospitals, beds will be opened up all over the city for those who are infected.”
But these ships don’t sit idle when not being used in disaster relief missions. Both ships are routinely assigned to good will tours, making port calls throughout the world to provide healthcare to under served people and serve as an ambassador for the U.S. military.
The USNS Comfort is assigned to the Atlantic, while the USNS Mercy resides in the Pacific. Each vessel started life as an oil tanker before being converted to a floating hospital in the 1970s. They have close to 1,000 hospital beds as well as operating rooms and critical care units, reports NBC. They also boast medical laboratories, a pharmacy, imaging capabilities and a helicopter landing pad.
Unlike the Navy’s warships, the two hospital ships are normally sailed by a civilian crew of merchant mariners from Military Sealift Command.
The hospital staff is comprised of U.S. service members, primarily from the Navy.
“Among the sailors departing today are some of the finest doctors, nurses, technicians, orderlies and medical staff anywhere in the world,” Trump said. “These are true professionals, and no one performs better under pressure when lives are on the line.”
While the ships may be welcomed sights, some are concerned that the close quarters of the ships make them vulnerable to a coronavirus outbreak. Those concerns might not be unfounded. Recently, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was sidelined after roughly two dozen sailors fell ill from the virus, reports the New York Post.
As for the hospital ships, the Navy has said that the staff will be outfitted with proper personal protective equipment and will undergo a temperature screening before embarking.