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The USNS Comfort wasn’t originally designed to handle the coronavirus — here’s how the Navy redesigned the hospital ship to take and treat patients effectively


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The USNS Comfort wasn’t originally designed to handle the coronavirus — here’s how the Navy redesigned the hospital ship to take and treat patients effectively

The US Navy hospital ship Comfort is treating coronavirus patients in New York City.But that wasn’t the ship’s original plan — it was originally meant to take non-coronavirus patients to ease the burden on local hospitals.That all changed after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requested to fill more of the USNS Comfort with virus patients.Since…

The USNS Comfort wasn’t originally designed to handle the coronavirus — here’s how the Navy redesigned the hospital ship to take and treat patients effectively
  • The US Navy hospital ship Comfort is treating coronavirus patients in New York City.
  • But that wasn’t the ship’s original plan — it was originally meant to take non-coronavirus patients to ease the burden on local hospitals.
  • That all changed after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requested to fill more of the USNS Comfort with virus patients.
  • Since coroanvirus patients require more space to curb the virus’ spread, the ship’s capacity came down from 1,000 to 500 hospital beds. 
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

The US Navy hospital ship Comfort is now admitting coronavirus patients — but that wasn’t the ship’s original mission.

It was supposed to help New York hospitals overwhelmed by the pandemic by taking non-coronavirus patients off their hands.

Officials had previously expressed concern about what bringing coronavirus patients in would mean for others on board.

After the Comfort could only fill about 4% of its capacity with trauma patients, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requested on Monday that President Donald Trump designate the Comfort to treat coronavirus patients as well.

But the Navy had to reconfigure the ship as defense officials had said that the Comfort was not designed to treat patients with infectious diseases.

The Navy said it found a way to isolate crew members and patients by dividing the ship into a “green” and a “red” zone. 

In the “red” zone are the doctors and the nurses that interact with patients. Once the medical staff members are done with their shifts, they are taken off the ship to an isolated undisclosed hotel. Crew members are not allowed to go back and forth between the “red” and “green” zones.

Cuomo said on Tuesday the ship’s capacity will be also be cut in half to 500 beds.

“COVID patients require a greater treatment area and more space,” he said. “Therefore the capacity of the ship came down from 1,000 to 500. It is still a tremendous benefit.”

As of Tuesday evening, there were five coronavirus patients on board the Comfort.

A Navy official said on a call with reporters that the patient had tested negative when they boarded the ship but later tested positive.

Patients who are in a less dire situation are being taken to the Javits Center, while those who may need intensive care will be treated at the Comfort. 

According to multiple media reports, a crew member aboard the Comfort also tested positive for the coronavirus and has been isolated. Officials said the incident will not affect the ship’s mission and ability to receive more patients.

Before the coronavirus cases were reported, the Navy had strict intake rules. People had to first be taken to a hospital to be screened and tested. Once they tested negative — which could take hours — they were taken by ambulance to the Comfort. 

But the process done through a central communications system turned out to be long and bureaucratic.

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The head of one hospital in the city describing it to the New York Times as a “joke.”

On top of that, officials have also said that a shelter-in-place order in New York may have caused a decrease in traumas, injuries from car accidents, or assaults — things the Comfort was there to treat.

“There’s fewer traffic accidents, crime is down,” Cuomo said. “So the original plan, which was that the Comfort would take non-COVID cases from the hospital, didn’t really work.”

Defense officials said on Wednesday 58 patients have been treated at the Comfort, while the Javits Center has treated 104. 

Now as the Comfort takes in coronavirus patients on board, crew members say they will do all they can to help during this health crisis, despite the risks.

“I would like to thank the families of the crew on board, because this is a national crisis, and they had to wave their loved ones in Norfolk as we pulled away to head to New York City,” Patrick K. Amersbach, commanding officer of the Comfort, said.

“We’re open for business and we want to do what we can for the citizens of the city.”

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