President Donald Trump said Monday that he would be granting New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request to convert a hospital ship docked off of Manhattan to treat novel coronavirus patients.
Cuomo had told reporters earlier Monday that he was “going to call the President this afternoon and ask him to shift the (USNS) Comfort from non-Covid to Covid.”
Trump, speaking at a White House news briefing Monday afternoon, said he “was informed that Gov. Cuomo has already told you and announced he called me up a little while ago and asked whether or not it would be possible to use the ship with respect to fighting the virus.”
“We hadn’t had that in mind at all, but we’re going to let him do it,” Trump remarked.
“It’s set for Covid,” Trump said of the Comfort. The President also confirmed that the ship has been approved to treat New Jersey patients.
The US Navy hospital ship had originally been designated as a space for non-coronavirus patients to alleviate the pressure from New York hospitals, though Trump signaled this weekend that the ship could be used for coronavirus patients if needed.
“That was not supposed to be for the virus at all and under circumstances, it looks like more and more we’ll be using it for that,” he told reporters at the White House Sunday. “The ship is ready and if we need it for the virus, we’ll use it for that.”
The move comes as New York City’s hospitals have been overwhelmed with coronavirus cases and are struggling to respond to patients streaming in. A shortage of personal protective equipment has also placed medical workers at risk of contracting the virus.
As a result — even before Trump’s announcement Monday — Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the top medical doctor for the military, said the USNS Comfort had already treated coronavirus patients, stating, “Our commitment has been that if a patient comes to us, we would take care of them.”
“Have we had patients who ultimately were determined to have coronavirus on the hospital ships? Yes,” Friedrichs said. “And we’re taking care of them, just like we’re taking care of all the other patients going forward.”
A defense official tells CNN that the Comfort has treated fewer than five coronavirus patients and the Pentagon has said that Comfort has treated a total of 41 patients.
“Having the Comfort here is a very, very important thing for New York City in terms of the number of patients served, but also an extraordinary morale boost when we needed it,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN Friday. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind, the Comfort will be filled up soon.”