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Coronavirus update: The Navy’s ‘floating hospital’ is on its way to boost city’s health care capacity

The state is in talks with the Army Corp of Engineers to build backup hospitals

March 18, 2020 Mary Frost
The USNS Comfort is heading to New York City to help during the coronavirus outbreak. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erin Olberholtzen, via Wikipedia
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that President Trump is dispatching the naval hospital ship USNS Comfort to New York City to help alleviate what could be a catastrophic shortage of hospitals as the number of novel coronavirus patients increases.

The vessel and crew are just one component of a massive effort to build more hospitals beds in New York, especially intensive care beds. Experts have predicted the COVID-19 outbreak will peak in 45 days, Cuomo said Monday, setting an unprecedented deadline.

New York State has more confirmed cases — 2,382 — than any other state in the union. Of these, 1,339 are in New York City.

“It’s an extraordinary step, [the Comfort] is literally a floating hospital,” Cuomo said at a livestreamed press conference.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

In addition, Cuomo said that after speaking by phone with the Secretary of the Army, a representative of the Army Corp of Engineers would be meeting with him in New York on Wednesday afternoon.

For days, Cuomo has been urging Trump to send in the Army Corp of Engineers to help convert facilities like college dormitories and armories into backup hospitals.

The state Health Department has also been speaking with FEMA “throughout the night,” he said.

After years of cutbacks, there are only 53,000 hospital beds in New York State, including just 3,000 Intensive Care Unit beds, of which 80 percent are currently occupied.

With the state’s current hospitalization rate for people infected with the virus somewhere between 15 and 19 percent, Cuomo projected New York would need between 55,000 to 110,000 additional hospital beds to handle the outbreak. Of these, 18,600 to 37,200 must be ICU beds equipped with ventilators, which are nearly impossible to find currently due to the increase in worldwide demand.

The Comfort contains 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, lab facilities and an oxygen-producing plant. She is staffed by officers from the Navy’s medical, dental, nurse and chaplain corps. According to Military Factory, 500 of the beds are designated for minimal case needs, 400 for intermediate cases, 20 for surgical recovery and 80 for intensive care patients.

The president also told Cuomo during a phone call on Tuesday that he would dispatch federal mobile hospitals to New York that are capable of handling 250 patients at a time.

“I told the president we would … expedite siting,” Cuomo said.

There’s no word yet where the floating hospital will dock, but after the Sept. 11 tragedy in 2001, the Comfort docked at Pier 92 in Manhattan.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams Tuesday said that his office is identifying sites in Brooklyn that could be converted to backup hospitals.

These include the Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue, a Department of Education building on Livingston Street, the Armory in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, along with other sites. The Aviator space at Floyd Bennet Field could add a heated tent as well, he said.

Cuomo, who said several days ago that the federal government was not responding to the state’s request for assistance, said that Tuesday’s conversation with Trump was “open and honest.”

“We’re fighting the same war, we’re in the same trench, I have your back and you have mine,” Cuomo said, adding, “He is fully engaged in trying to help New York and I thank him for his partnership.”

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