In the past several weeks the military has become more and more involved in the battle against the coronavirus. A notable event was the arrival of the USNS Comfort in New York City.
With the fear that New York City might run out of hospital beds for the sick, Governor Cuomo pleaded for assistance from the federal government and specifically from the military. President Trump answered the call and authorized the deployment of USNS Comfort along with a number of units.
The USNS Comfort departed from Norfolk, VA on March 28, arriving two days later in New York City. The Comfort has 1,200 medical personnel, 1,000 hospital beds, and 12 operating rooms. The last time the ship sailed into New York City was after 9/11, which proves the gravity of the present situation.
The initial mission for the Comfort was to relieve pressure off hospitals, by taking on patients that needed treatment for non-COVID-19 related issues.
By the end of last week, there were only 20 hospital beds filled on the ship, sparking outrage among health professionals in the city. Due to the rampant spread of coronavirus, New York City hospitals are experiencing a sharp decrease in patients with issues unrelated to the virus, resulting in few patients being placed on the Comfort.
The Department of Defense was listening to the healthcare professionals on the ground. By Saturday it had lessened the requirements that must be met for patients to be admitted onto the ship.
On Monday, realizing that New York City needs more beds for COVID-19 patients, President Trump agreed to allow the USNS Comfort to begin receiving patients infected with the coronavirus — a complete 180 from the ship’s initial purpose for going to New York City.
Complicating the situation further, on the same day President Trump made his announcement, a sailor on the USNS Comfort began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and tested positive for the virus. It is believed that the individual contracted the virus while still in Norfolk, VA and was asymptomatic when he went through the screening process upon embarking onto the ship. Other sailors that the individual came into contact with have tested negative for the virus, but are quarantining as a precaution.
The ship is now being divided with its medical sections being isolated. Medical staff working on the ship are now staying in hotels and are being transported to the ship each day to work. The idea is to minimize the amount of contact that medical providers have with the rest of the ship’s crew, in an attempt to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading throughout the ship.
There is no question that the sailors on the USNS Comfort have gone in harm’s way. What they are doing is nothing short of selfless and heroic.