The Pentagon said Wednesday it was deploying its two 1,000-bed hospital ships at the direction of the president to assist with the nation’s coronavirus response.
“As was announced by the president, the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are being prepared for deployment as needed to assist potentially overwhelmed communities with acute patient care,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman said at a briefing.
He said the Comfort is intended to head to New York. He said since it is currently in maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia, the maintenance will be expedited but it will take at least a week to get it underway. “It’s going to be a little while,” he added.
The Mercy, which is on the West Coast, will be “prepared and ready to go much sooner,” Hoffman said. He said the ship will be prepared to go in “days, not weeks.” He said the destination is to be determined.
The ships will be used to take non-coronavirus patients in order to alleviate potential strain on hospital beds in civilian hospitals, said Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Fredrichs.
Fredrichs said the Defense Department has 14 labs up and running, testing defense personnel for coronavirus. Almost 1,000 tests have been run.
He said the department is soon expanding its ability to run tests for non-defense personnel as well.
The Pentagon also has a number of field hospitals it can deploy to help alleviate the strain on civilian hospital beds that may be needed to respond to coronavirus.
Fredrichs said the Air Force has expeditionary air medical systems that have 25 beds in them, and the Army has much larger combat support hospitals and field hospitals that can deploy by air and ground. He said in addition to the hospital ships, the Navy has expeditionary medical facilities that have 150 beds.
Fredrichs said there is no specific requirement yet for beds in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked for federal help to alleviate a potential hospital bed shortage.