New Yorkers cheered from the harbor shoreline Monday morning as the USNS Comfort arrived in Manhattan with a Coast Guard escort to help the city’s medical staff combat the coronavirus.
The Comfort is crewed by civilian mariners and gets most of its medical staff from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, went from San Diego to Los Angeles last week with a similar mission.
At a press conference Monday, Rear Adm. John Mustin, vice commander of the Norfolk-based U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said the ship “represents all that is good about the American people.”
“I know that for our military families, social distancing is not a new concept,” he added.
Mustin said the ship, staffed with more than 1,100 medical personnel, was expecting to start receiving patients Tuesday. It was prepared “in record time,” he said.
The Comfort docked at a pier in Manhattan but will not accept walk-in patients. The idea is for the Navy to alleviate the strain the coronavirus pandemic is placing on the city’s hospitals by taking in referred patients who are not affected by the virus. That will include general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults.
The ship is “acting as a release valve for other urgent needs,” Mustin said.
Last year, the Comfort traveled to Central and South America in response to Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.
The last time the ship docked in New York was in the wake of 9/11, Mustin said in a news release. The Comfort had provided meals, housing and medical and psychological services to those working on recovery efforts at ground zero.
“Our message to New Yorkers – now your Navy has returned, and we are with you, committed in this fight.”
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