The USNS Comfort arrives in New York Harbor March 30, 2020, to support the national, state, and local response to the coronavirus (COVID-19). The hospital ship will provide approximately 1,000 beds for urgent care patients not infected with the virus, relieving pressure on local hospital systems. Photo by K.C. Wilsey/FEMA, via the Department of Defense.
As of Tuesday, New York City’s death toll from COVID-19 related deaths hit an all time high of 5,489. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Monday had the highest number of deaths thus far at 731. At the time of this publication, the United Sates has a total of 399,799 confirmed cases and 12,912 deaths.
The U.S. military has made adjustments to their original missions for the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort in an attempt to decrease the number of deaths from the virus in New York City. Originally, the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort were established to take on non-COVID patients, but there are hardly any non-COVID patients within the city’s hospitals, so both the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort have officially transitioned to accepting those who have tested positive for the virus.
The healthcare system in New York City is overloaded and the morgues are full. The Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in New York has sent several refrigerated trailers to the five boroughs to provide a temporary resting place for the city’s perished citizens.
“In the past few days, the city’s medical examiner’s office has taken over the collection of bodies, dispatching the fleet of new refrigerated trailers to hospitals in all five boroughs, some of whose morgues have already filled up,” the New York Times reported on Thursday. “Funeral homes are becoming backed up. And, running on smaller staffs, cemeteries and crematories are scrambling to keep up with demand.”
On Monday, Mark D. Levine, a representative of District 7 (Uptown Manhattan) and chair of the New York City Council health committee, tweeted, “The goal is to avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets. OCME is going to need much more staff to achieve that goal.”
He went on to say, “NYC’s healthcare system is being pushed to the limit. And sadly, now so is the city’s system for managing our dead. And it, too, needs more resources.”
New York’s healthcare system, as well as their mortuary system, has become overloaded and is in need of support now more than ever.
In response to concerns stemming from COVID-19 rapidly spreading on cruise ships and U.S. Navy warships, the Comfort has been reconfigured to a green and red zone to restrict the spread of COVID-19. The green zone contains the staff that run the auxiliary and plant functions of the ship, as well as the crew needed to secure the ship. The red zone contains the infected patients and the healthcare staff taking care of them.
“They don’t go across, back and forth, from red to green,” said Vice Admiral Michael Lewis, commander of the USNS Comfort, during a press briefing Tuesday.
“So of the 1,200 or more people on the ship, most of them are staying off the ship and only working in the red zone,” he continued. “The green zone people are essentially isolated all the time anyway. They all have their individual staterooms. They all have an ability to be isolated within the skin of the ship, and if we ever have any doubt of that, we will take them off the ship — and be able to care for them with the standard of care that we provide to any of the patients or any of the service members, as well.”
“From reporting this morning, they have a combined 110 patients, 44 at the Comfort and 66 at Javits,” Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, reported during a Department of Defense press briefing. “We expect to increase the number of patients rapidly in the next few days, and as the governor has described, we can — we will — be looking to reach a capacity of 500 patients at the Comfort and 2,500 patients — non-urgent COVID patients — at the Javits Center.”
The Javits Center is staffed with 917 personnel, and the USNS Comfort has 1,000 staff members. More U.S. military service members are arriving this week to further bolster the fighting force against COVID-19 in New York.
“Each hospital is receiving 20 to 30 medical personnel to augment the hospital’s civilian staff,” Hoffman said. “This includes doctors, assistants, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other professionals.”
In addition to providing staff, the military has also assisted with securing necessary equipment. “With regard to emergency supplies, the Department of Defense has released 5 million N95 masks to the state of New York,” Hoffman said. “In addition to the hundreds of ventilators on the Comfort and deployed with our field hospital units in New York City, 300 ventilators have been transferred to New Jersey FEMA for distribution to New York City hospitals.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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