The Navy’s hospital ship Comfort departed New York City today after spending the last month supporting the region’s COVID-19 efforts.
The ship arrived in New York’s Pier 90 exactly one month ago with the mission of accepting non-coronavirus patients to alleviate the burden on local hospitals, but a minimal number of patients admitted during the first week prompted officials to modify the ship’s mission.
Comfort was directed to begin accepting COVID-19 patients on April 6, a decision that warranted an extensive layout reconfiguration to properly cordon off the coronavirus ward from the rest of vessel.
“USNS Comfort arrived in New York City to provide relief to frontline health care providers, and each patient who was brought aboard ensured one more bed was available in a local hospital,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, said in a Navy release.
“While the ship is departing New York City, make no mistake, the fight is not over, and we stand ready to support the response to COVID-19 in whatever capacity we are needed.”
By the time of Comfort’s departure, the approximately 1,200-person crew and 1,000-bed hospital had treated just 182 patients, of which approximately 70 percent had COVID-19, according to Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the Comfort’s Medical Treatment Facility.
Underutilization of added medical resources in New York City is not unique to the Comfort. Thousands of hospital beds made available in a converted convention center have gone largely unused after quick assembly by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Javits Center, which was initially envisioned as a 2,500-bed field hospital for non-COVID patients, converted to coronavirus-only hospital shortly after going operational. Still, the highest number of patients treated at the convention center at one time topped out at close to 500.
Officials from both the Pentagon and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, believe the diminished roles of the Comfort and Javits Center hospitals are positive trends for a city battered by the pandemic.
“We are encouraged by the data which suggest the curve is flattening in New York and we are working with the city and state to begin the strategic drawdown of resources,” a FEMA spokesperson said
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman added that the Comfort’s departure “is a sure sign of modest progress in mitigating the virus in the nation’s hardest hit city.”
While ported in New York, Amersbach said the Comfort’s critical care nurses and respiratory technicians were especially vital to the health of COVID-19 patients, many of whom were facing the failure of multiple organs or necessitated the use of a ventilator.
“It is truly an honor and I am humbled to lead a team of world-class medical professionals,” Amersbach said in the release.
“We came together from different units across the nation and were able to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing environment. The training we receive is among the best in the world and enabled us to provide the highest quality care to the citizens of New York and New Jersey.”
Comfort will now head back to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, where it will remain ready for future assignments, Navy officials said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo thanked the crew of the hospital ship prior to its departure and echoed the Pentagon’s belief that the strain placed on New York’s hospitals is waning.
“I believe Comfort not only brought comfort but also saved lives,” Cuomo said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.