USNS Comfort Hospital ShipThe USNS Comfort. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Mannin courtesy the office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

Governor Cuomo has been hammering home the urgent need for more hospital beds in New York state in the battle against coronavirus. As of three days ago, he reported that 80% of intensive care unit beds were already occupied. Today, Cuomo announced the President Trump had agreed to send the USNS Comfort to New York Harbor. It’s a 1,000-bed hospital ship, with 12 fully-equipped operating rooms. It is expected to arrive in April [Update: it will be here on March 30th]
In a press conference, Cuomo said, “We are fighting a war against this pandemic and we know that two of the most effective ways to stop it is by reducing density and increasing our hospital capacity so our healthcare system is not overwhelmed. The deployment of the USNS Comfort to New York is an extraordinary but necessary step to help ensure our state has the capacity to handle an influx of patients with COVID-19 and continue our efforts to contain the virus.” Cuomo also spoke about mobile hospitals that the federal government has the capability of setting up with capacities of 200 to 250 people. 

USS Comfort U.S. Navy photo by Bill Mesta/ReleasedU.S. Navy photo by Bill Mesta/Released

The current USNS Comfort was built in 1976 originally as an oil tanker for the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, named the SS Rose City. In 1987, it became part of the U.S. Navy as a hospital ship. Beyond the hospital beds and surgery rooms, the USNS Comfort has a lot of different departments including an intensive care unit, laboratory, radiology, a medical pharmacy, morgue, optometry, physical therapy, dental services, oxygen producing plants, and four seawater distillation plants that can turn seawater into drinking water.
Historically, the use of floating hospitals has precedent. Bellevue Hospital used floating wards in the effort to control tuberculosis in New York City. The USNS Comfort is also no stranger to New York City. After 9/11, it was docked and in action at Pier 92 in Manhattan. The ship has also served in the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, for Hurricane Katrina, for the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and more.
Next, check out NYC’s former quarantine hospitals and islands.