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Presidential Sendoff as Hospital Ship Heads to NYC 


FILE PHOTO: The hospital ship USNS Comfort is anchored off the coast of Haiti, Jan. 20, 2010.

President Donald Trump plans to go to Norfolk, Virginia, Saturday to send off a U.S. Navy hospital ship to New York Harbor to help relieve local hospitals overrun with coronavirus patients.

The USNS Comfort is expected to arrive in New York on Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday. The ship will provide up to 1,000 beds for noncoronavirus patients, freeing up local hospital beds and local medical professionals so they can devote more of their resources to isolating and treating those with the highly contagious COVID-19.

'Weeks and weeks and weeks'

Cuomo spoke in a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has turned into a makeshift hospital facility for treating thousands of coronavirus patients.

"This is going to be weeks and weeks and weeks," Cuomo told service members at the center. "This is going to be a rescue mission that you're on … as hard as we work, we're not going to be able to save everyone."

In this March 27, 2020, photo provided by Office of Governor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, walks the corridor of a nearly completed makeshift hospital erected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.
In this March 27, 2020, photo provided by Office of Governor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, walks the corridor of a nearly completed makeshift hospital erected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.

Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lieutenant General Todd Semonite said the final plan is to have 2,910 hospital rooms in the Javits Center by Monday morning.

Two Army hospital units, capable of providing 300 hospital spaces, will be able to start seeing New York patients on Monday, Army Chief of Staff General James McConville said earlier this week.

New York has been desperately trying to increase its capacity for patients as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. Cuomo said the state has a capacity of 53,000 beds but projected that 140,000 coronavirus patients would come to hospitals in the days ahead.

On the West Coast, the USNS Mercy hospital ship arrived in Los Angeles on Friday to support the city’s response to an overwhelming number of coronavirus cases. Like its sister ship, the Comfort, it will provide up to 1,000 hospital beds for noncoronavirus patients.

Another Army hospital unit will soon deploy to Seattle. It is capable of setting up about 250 hospital bed spaces once the location is chosen.

General John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday that the city of Chicago and the states of Michigan, Florida and Louisiana have been identified as some of the coronavirus hot spots that would soon require additional military help.

Chicago to convert convention center

The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build hospital bed spaces for 3,000 COVID-19 patients in Chicago’s McCormick Convention Center by late April, according to Semonite.

In total, Semonite’s teams are looking at 114 facilities across the country in which to build hospital spaces, with 81 of those assessed so far.

More than 12,000 U.S. National Guard personnel are responding to the coronavirus pandemic in all U.S. states and territories and the District of Columbia, according to officials. Tasks range from delivering meals to screening symptoms at testing facilities.

As of early Friday, 613 coronavirus cases around the globe were related to the U.S. military — 309 service members, 134 civilians, 108 dependents and 62 contractors — the Pentagon said.

One U.S. defense contractor and one Army spouse, both in Virginia, have died from the virus.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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