Pentagon adjusts coronavirus screening process for care on hospital ship in New York

The USNS Comfort is seen as it enters the New York Harbor during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., March 30, 2020.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Friday that it will modify the screening process for people to receive care on the hospital ship USNS Comfort in order to reduce the backlog of patients at New York hospitals.

The screening effort will now occur pier-side and will no longer require a patient to test negative for the coronavirus.

“Each patient will still be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire,” the Pentagon said. “This assistance will further unburden the local hospital and ambulance systems in these areas, allowing them to focus on the more serious COVID-19 cases.”

A day prior, the captains of the U.S. Navy’s two hospital ships said that the vessels have treated fewer than 20 patients since deploying to New York and Los Angeles.

When asked why the vessels hadn’t received more referrals given the capacity of each ship, U.S. Navy Capt. Patrick Amersbach, the commanding officer of the USNS Comfort, said Thursday that he could not speculate if there was a delay and what the reason might be. 

“The process continues, and we are honestly looking forward to seeing a significant increase in patients being transferred to the Comfort,” he said, adding that each patient must be referred to the vessel by a local hospital.

Healthcare workers wheel the body of deceased person from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, said Friday that New York saw its single-biggest increase in coronavirus deaths.

Cuomo said that 2,935 New Yorkers have died from the coronavirus so far with 562 new deaths over the last 24 hours.

The USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are equipped with 12 operating rooms, a blood bank, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab and a CT scanner. Each has 15 patient wards, 80 ICU beds and 10 elevators to transfer patients between decks. 

Lt. J.G. Jan Sangrones leads medical response team training aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which was deployed to serve as a referral hospital for non-coronavirus disease currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, as the ship transits the Atlantic Ocean on its way to New York City March 29, 2020.

MC2 Sara Eshleman | U.S. Navy | Reuters

The twin vessels, currently tasked to receive non-coronavirus patients, may deploy to other coastal cities, such as New Orleans, as coronavirus cases around the nation rise.

“We’re in a constant state of readiness to do whatever mission that our higher officials ask of us. So, the issue of us when relocating would just be providing a safe disposition for all the patients that are currently on board the ship. And once we accomplish that we could leave in fairly short order,” U.S. Navy Capt. John Rotruck, the commanding officer of the USNS Mercy, told Pentagon reporters Thursday via telephone.

Rotruck added that the movement would be at the direction of FEMA.

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