Floating hospital headed for New York Harbor

Matt Fink

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Nothing says “normalcy” like a giant maritime hospital floating in New York Harbor, ready with 1,000 beds to ease the workload of the city’s health care system, which could become overtaxed should the coronavirus continue to spread. And it likely will.

The last time the ship, dubbed the USNS Comfort, was sent to New York by the federal government, the twin towers had just fallen. While the atmosphere in coronavirus-era New York isn’t quite comparable to what followed the September 11th attacks, it is nonetheless eerie, the prevailing emotion one of fearful apprehension.

The Comfort, equipped with 12 operating rooms, 1,200 doctors, nurses and other staff, hasn’t yet sank its mammoth anchor here; it won’t set sail until staffing and maintenance is complete in its home harbor of Norfolk, Virginia. Furthermore, it won’t treat coronavirus patients, but instead the potential overflow of non-coronavirus patients. According to Governor Cuomo, the ship should arrive mid-April.

A sister ship, dubbed the USNS Mercy, is also being prepped for emergency medical service; when ready, it’ll be sent to a harbor in Los Angeles.

“The deployment of the USNS Comfort to New York,” said Cuomo, “is an extraordinary but necessary step to help ensure our state has the capacity to handle an influx of patients with COVID-19 and continue our efforts to contain the virus.”

Numerous countries are struggling to cope with the pandemic, which has spread rapidly since it popped up in Wuhan, China late last year. China itself and Italy are among the worst hit, although the former has, thus far, been the most successful in stemming the disease’s spread within its borders. The latter nation hasn’t been as lucky; its coronavirus death toll surpassed China’s last week.

Meanwhile, in the United States, cases have topped 11,000, due in part to the wider availability of testing; New York State, for instance, reported a case uptick from 3,000 to 4,152 after more tests became available on Thursday, March 19.

With an increase in hitherto unreported/new cases of coronavirus here in NYC comes greater pressure on its already overtaxed health care system. While New York City will likely be grateful for the USNS Comfort, more aid will no doubt be needed in the coming months.

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