‘Our nation is helping us’: New York mayor welcomes Navy hospital ship as city’s coronavirus death toll soars

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — The USNS Comfort — an enormous Navy hospital ship last dispatched to New York City in the wake of 9/11 — arrived in the Big Apple on Monday to assist in the battle against coronavirus, but Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that much more help will be needed as the crisis deepens.

Speaking at Pier 90 on Manhattan’s west side after the Comfort docked, de Blasio said the ship’s 1,000 beds are a critical “boost” to the city’s overcrowding hospital system. Still, he noted New York needs to “triple” its hospital bed capacity by May.

“It’s a daunting task,” de Blasio said, as his administration reported 790 people have now died in the five boroughs from the respiratory infection, with more than 36,000 confirmed cases. “But we got a big boost with the arrival of the Comfort. This is like adding a whole other hospital to New York City.”

The mayor added, “I say to all New Yorkers, you have evidence here you are not alone. Our nation is helping us in our hour of need.”

The Comfort will accommodate non-coronavirus patients to help alleviate hospitals at capacity amid terrifying spikes in COVID-19 cases.

De Blasio said the Comfort will have 750 beds available by Tuesday morning, with the possibility of adding 250 more.

In addition to beds, the Comfort has 12 operating rooms that could be up and running within 24 hours.

Speaking at the pier earlier in the day as the Comfort slowly pulled in, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the “apex” of New York’s coronavirus outbreak could be as many as four weeks away, even though more than 60,000 people have already been infected statewide.

Federal assistance for health care workers and hospitals, the governor said, is tantamount to winning the “war” against the virus.

“The front lines of this battle is the health system,” Cuomo said. “They need our help, they need our support.”

Cuomo was expected to give his daily briefing later in the day at the Javits Center, which has been turned into a field hospital for coronavirus patients.

Thomas Von Essen, who was FDNY commissioner during 9/11 and now serves as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s top official in New York, appeared with de Blasio and offered a grim parallel to the 2001 terror attacks.

“Sept. 11th, it seemed like every day we were fixing stuff and it was getting slightly better,” Von Essen said. “With this, it seems to be, we’re not there yet. We are preparing for the worst case, and that’s all we can do.”

The Comfort is usually moored in Virginia and initially wasn’t supposed to arrive in New York for another couple of weeks.

However, as New York’s outbreak worsened by the day, the U.S. Navy fast-tracked maintenance of the ship, allowing it to depart Norfolk, Va., on Saturday.


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