NEW YORK - The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort sailed into New York Harbor early Monday, bringing hope and relief to the city of 8.6 million, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
The mammoth white ship emblazoned with red crosses has 1,000 beds and 12 operating theaters. Its medical personnel will care for nonvirus patients in an effort to shift some of the burden from the city’s overwhelmed hospitals, which are focused on the outbreak.
“Feeling the presence of the United States military here just gave me a sense that things are going to be OK,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the pier where the ship docked. “This ship is so impressive. It’s just looming there in our harbor like a beacon of hope.”
The Comfort sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, where it had to undergo some maintenance before deploying to New York. The city’s harbor also had to be dredged to allow the ship to moor. Officials said the ship is expected to begin receiving patients as soon as Tuesday.
“This was supposed to take two weeks to make it possible for this ship to dock — they did it in eight days,” a relieved de Blasio said. “That means help has arrived quicker, and we are going to be able to do the lifesaving work right now.”
U.S. Navy Vice Commander of Fleet Forces Rear Adm. John Mustin said the Comfort normally is at the forefront of U.S. humanitarian missions overseas.
“This ship represents all that is good about the American people. All that is generous. All that is ready, responsive and resolute,” he said.
New York City has more than 36,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. As of Monday, 790 city residents had succumbed to the virus.
The last time the USNS Comfort came to the aid of New Yorkers was in the bleak weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. First responders and federal workers were housed on the ship, and its doctors provided them with crisis counseling.
The Comfort’s mission is even more critical this time.
“At this point, we assume at least half of all New Yorkers will contract this disease,” de Blasio said, adding that it “could be substantially more.”
That would be more than 4 million people who could fall ill.
He emphasized that for 80% of people who contract it, it is in a fairly mild form.
“I’ve been honest, I think the weeks ahead will be tougher,” de Blasio said. “To date, I still fear that the worst is not going to be April but actually the beginning of May.”
April is when experts have projected New York’s cases will hit their peak.
De Blasio￼ said he would continue appealing to the federal government to send more ventilators, personal protection equipment and trained medical personnel to help the city ramp up for the expected waves of cases.