The hospital ship USNS Mercy is departing Naval Base San Diego in California for Los Angeles on Monday, as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. increase, according to the Navy.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced that the Mercy would head to Los Angeles to provide additional medical capacity in the region. The vessel is equipped with more than 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff, along with more than 70 civil service mariners, and has 1,000 hospital beds.
Although the vessel was expected to depart for Seattle, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said the administration predicts California will need more assistance.
"The Department of Defense has been given direction to dispatch it to Los Angeles immediately," Gaynor said during a Sunday press conference. "DoD has advised that Mercy can get into position within a week or less of today's order. Even though there are more cases right now in Washington, the projected needs for beds in California is five times more that of Washington.”
According to the Gaynor and the Navy, the hospital ship will be used to treat patients who are not suffering from COVID-19. This will free up local health professionals to treat those infected with the virus.
“The ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care to include critical and urgent care for adults,” the Navy said in a news release Monday.
“This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients,” the Navy release said.
The Mercy isn’t the only hospital ship that will respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort, based out of Norfolk, Virginia, will also be deployed to assist with the COVID-19 response. The hospital ship is currently in Norfolk for maintenance, and will likely head to New York in a few weeks.
“That's a weeks issue, so it's going to be a little while,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters March 18. “At that time, it's intended to head to New York, but we'll continue to evaluate the situation and make a determination on where it's best suited.”
According to estimates from CNN, there are more than 30,000 COVID-19 cases in the United States.