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Pentagon Deploys Doctors from USNS Comfort to NYC Hospitals

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U.S. Navy Cmdr. Nelle Linz dons personal protective equipment before entering an intensive care unit aboard USNS Comfort (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 04-15-2020 04:44:58

Two COVID-19 patients have died aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, according to New York State officials. They represent the vessel's first coronavirus fatalities during her aid mission to New York City, where nearly 11,000 people have died of the disease to date. 

Comfort is nominally classed as a 1,000-bed hospital facility, but her capacity has been derated by half in order to account for the needs of coronavirus patients. Of the 500 remaining beds, only 69 (14 percent) were occupied as of Wednesday. A total of about 130 patients have been treated on board to date, and about 65 of these have been coronavirus patients, 2nd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh told media on Wednesday. By comparison, New York City's hospitals have been admitting as many as 1,600 serious coronavirus cases for treatment every day.

New York's hospital administrators have sharply criticized the bureaucratic process for admitting patients to Comfort. Although modifications have been made to streamline the procedure, the Defense Department has changed tack. Instead, the Navy and other service branches are deploying their medical personnel directly to shoreside hospitals in order to relieve civilian doctors and nurses.

"The strategy has changed," said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at a press briefing on Tuesday. "We're moving off the Comfort our doctors, a portion of our doctors, and putting them into New York City hospitals to provide relief."

Over 2,000 military medical personnel have been redeployed in New York City, Esper said, and more may be on the way soon.

"Combining the staffs of military and civilian doctors and nurses during a pandemic has never been done before," said Army Lt. Col. Leslie Curtis, chief nurse officer for Fort Hood's 9th Field Hospital, in a Pentagon teleconference on Tuesday. "This is an extraordinary time in history where we've come together in all the services, providing in a tough situation."