- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Navy’s two hospital ships - the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy - were intended to act as relief valves for local medical facilities in New York and Los Angeles overwhelmed because of a crush of patients from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 1,000 bed floating hospitals would care for non-infected patients and allow local health care staff to concentrate on COVID-19.

The Mercy has seen 15 patients since March 29 with 10 currently remaining on board for follow-on treatment. The Comfort, now in New York, has treated three people since Wednesday.

“They really wanted to get the capability and capacity in place early before the hospitals in the local areas were already overwhelmed,” said Capt. John Rotruck, commander of medical staff aboard the USNS Mercy, now docked at the Port of Los Angeles.

Capt. Rotruck and his colleague, Navy Capt. Patrick Amersbach aboard the USNS Comfort in New York, both said they would start caring for COVID-19 patients if ordered.

“Right now, those rules still apply - we are only accepting non-COVID-19 patients. If that changes in the future, we would adjust accordingly,” Capt. Amersbach told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Staff aboard the hospital ships would have to reconfigure the hospital bed layout to ensure sufficient separation between the patients, he said.

If they had to start accepting COVID-19 patients, they wouldn’t be able to accept any others, Capt. Rotruck said.

“We would probably have to transfer the non-COVID infected patients off the ship and become a 100 percent COVID operation,” he said. “It’s something we’d have to give some thought to.”

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