U.S. Navy ship Mercy docks in Port of L.A., becoming largest hospital in the city amid pandemic

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A U.S. Navy hospital ship arrived at the Port of Los Angeles Friday, bringing 1,000 beds to help local hospitals bracing for a crush of patients as novel coronavirus cases surge in the county.

The fully-staffed USNS Mercy will provide treatment for non-COVID-19 patients, providing relief for hospitals to be able to better focus on treating and isolating those infected with the virus.

“This truly is mercy is on the water,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday, describing the ship and its surrounding area as a “COVID-19 free bubble,” where no one infected would come on board.

Since deploying from a San Diego base Tuesday, hundreds of staff aboard the floating hospital spent days preparing and sterilizing equipment.

With a crew of 800 and its own 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, laboratories, pharmacy and radiological equipment, the USNS Mercy will become the largest hospital in the city.

Standing alongside Mayor Garcetti near the massive ship Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom thanked President Donald Trump for the ship, calling it “profoundly important” for the state’s health care delivery system.

Personnel aboard the ship will be spending the rest of Friday preparing and are expected to be able to take in patients as early as Saturday, Newsom said at the news conference.

Officials said patients will be transported to the ship from area medical centers.

“This is not intended to be a service site or a hospital site that you would come to for an emerging medical need or in the event of a medical emergency,” Port of L.A. Police Chief Tom Gazsi said during a news conference Thursday. “Please respond to your local hospitals where you can receive medical treatment as you would under normal circumstances.”

The ship is equipped with a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters and side ports to take on patients at sea, according to the U.S. Navy.

The USNS Mercy wasn’t always a hospital.

The ship used to be a San Clemente-class super tanker before it was converted in the ’80s and is usually docked in San Diego with a small crew, waiting to be activated.

Newsom, who requested the hospital ship from the federal government, had announced last week that the federal government is sending eight field medical units into the state to provide thousands of extra hospital beds. The state also spent $30 million to lease Seton Medical Center in Daly City and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles’ Westlake district.

While Seton Medical Center is already operational, the government is still working on getting protective gear and staff for St. Vincent Medical Center, Newsom said.

California as of Friday had secured some 4,000 extra beds to prepare for the surge, which Newsom said the state believes will start taking shape in the next week or two.

But even with the arrival of the USNS Mercy, local governments have said that many more hospital beds are still needed.

Newsom said that the state will need 50,000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

California had over 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 83 deaths Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Newsom said that 88, 400 people had been tested for the virus and tens of thousands are still expecting results.

The governor announced that the state on Thursday had a 26% surge in the number of patients with COVID-19, adding that state officials were expecting and preparing for a spike —including by bringing the USNS Mercy to L.A. and distributing 31.7 million N95 masks.

“We are not waiting for the crisis to hit and then react to it. We are doing everything humanly possible to prepare,” Newsom said.

The governor said $15.3 billion of Congress’ $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed by Trump Friday will come to California.

In Los Angeles County, novel coronavirus cases spiked to 1,465 Friday from 799 just two days before as the nation’s most populous county stepped up its testing for the respiratory illness that had killed at least 26 people countywide.

“If this rate of increase continues, in six days we will be where New York is today, the same number of cases per capita as they are struggling through,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday.

A similar U.S. hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, is set to arrive to New York’s aid within the next few days.

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