USNS Comfort arrives in NYC but more help is needed, Cuomo, de Blasio say

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — For the first time since 9/11, the U.S. Navy hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort returned to the shores of New York City on Monday morning as hundreds of New Yorkers watched the ship dock at Pier 90 on the Upper West Side. Onboard the USNS Comfort: 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, lab, pharmacy, CT scanner, and more than 1,000 military medical personnel needed to relieve pressure on the city’s overwhelmed hospitals starting Tuesday as a floating hospital for noncoronavirus patients.

When asked if patients requiring the help of the U.S.N.S. Comfort would need to show proof of insurance, Navy officials said that everyone would be treated.

The reinforcements are here, but will it be enough?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that public and private hospitals statewide will also share resources to fight the deadly scourge.

“If there is division at this time, the virus will defeat us,” he said at a Javits Center news briefing. “If there was ever a moment for unity — this, my friends, is the moment.”

Cuomo was not just talking about hospitals. He asked other states’ leaders to send their health care workers here to help and predicted that New York’s efforts to fight COVID-19 would pay dividends to other regions in the U.S. that have not yet fully felt its impact.

“In many ways, New York is just a canary in the coal mine,” he said. “What you see us going through here, you will see happening all across this country.

“We’ve lost over 1,000 New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “To me, we’re beyond staggering already. We’ve reached staggering.”

As he and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio heralded the good news along Manhattan’s West Side — where Javits is located and the Comfort is docking — the virus’ vicious toll continued to mount.

In New York state, roughly 10 people died from the disease every hour between Sunday and Monday afternoon.

In just 25 hours, 112 people in New York City succumbed to coronavirus with the number of cases in the five boroughs ballooning to more than 36,000 by Monday morning. The virus has killed a total of 790 people in the city as of Monday, a 16.5% spike from the 678 fatalities recorded Sunday morning.

Among the city’s confirmed cases, 52% were people under the age of 50. The median age of those infected is 48.

Statewide, the death toll climbed above 1,200, with 253 victims dying in the past 24 hours alone. More than 66,000 people throughout the state have tested positive; 9,500 are hospitalized, with 2,352 of those in intensive care units, Cuomo said.

De Blasio described the arrival of the USS Comfort, a gargantuan floating U.S. naval hospital, as a “big boost” Monday.

“This is like adding a whole other hospital to New York City,” he said at Pier 90 in Hell’s Kitchen. “I say to all New Yorkers, you have evidence here you are not alone. Our nation is helping us in our hour of need.”

Of the Comfort’s 1,000 beds, 750 are expected to be available by Tuesday, with the possibility of adding 250 more later on. A total of 2,500 beds are expected to come online at Javits in the coming weeks.

Despite the much-needed lift, de Blasio tempered the good news with fears it would not be enough as the virus threatens to overwhelm the city’s health care system in the coming weeks.

“This is such a crucial part of the plan we are putting in place, but I want you to understand the sheer magnitude of the plan. We need to triple our hospital bed capacity in New York City by May,” he said. “It’s a daunting task.”

That’s a total of 60,000 working hospital beds by May, or, as de Blasio put it, “40 USS Comforts.”

Both Javits and the Comfort will be taking noncoronavirus patients to help ease the burden felt at other hospitals, most of them city-run, that are at capacity because of COVID-19.

More beds, 68 of them, in the form of a field hospital deployed by the Christian evangelical group Samaritan’s Purse, came to Central Park over the weekend.

Cuomo also urged other states to send health care workers to the city to pitch in, and both he and de Blasio are hoping New York will better weather the mounting storm by more closely wedding public and private hospitals as well as city and upstate medical facilities.

“Once one system is near capacity, then the two systems will work together to share the load,” Cuomo said. “We all agreed to do it. There are no legal barriers.”

So far, the city’s public hospital system has felt more strain than private hospitals, so it’s likely that in most cases patients would be transferred from public to private facilities.

The agreement will apply to hospitals upstate as well.

“We’re going to work as one cohesive, family system throughout New York … beyond the city itself, including the downstate area, both the island as well as Westchester,” said Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents nonprofit hospitals. “We are going to be one cohesive family in tackling this.”


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