USNS Comfort to Accept COVID-19 Patients

Hospitalman Rhiannon O'Malley transports patient meals to the intensive care unit aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort.
Hospitalman Rhiannon O'Malley transports patient meals to the intensive care unit aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort.

Published Apr 7, 2020 7:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy's Northern Command has announced that USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) will now admit patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Effective immediately, USNS Comfort will accept trauma, emergency and urgent care patients regardless of their COVID-19 status.

Initially, USNS Comfort has orders to only deal with non-COVID-19 patients, but this left shoreside hospital administrators saying that this kept the ship “out of the fight.”

The primary DoD sites for adding hospital beds in New York City are the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort. Currently, there are 44 patients on USNS Comfort and 66 at the Javits Center. The number of patients is expected to increase rapidly in the next few days to reach 500 patients on USNS Comfort and 2,500 non-urgent COVID patients at the Javits Center.

However, the news comes as a crew member aboard the Navy hospital ship reportedly tested positive, and several others have gone into isolation. USNS Comfort has over 1,100 personnel on board.

Navy Reservists Bolster New York Capabilities

Approximately 500 Navy Reserve medical professionals will soon expand local medical capabilities in the New York City area. In total, the Navy Reserve has approximately 850 citizen-Sailors engaged in COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts. In addition to the 500 medical professionals being sent to New York, the Navy Reserve has approximately 225 Reservists currently aboard the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort. Other Reservists are serving across the Joint Force.

As part of the 500 Reservists deploying to New York, approximately 400 are deploying as part of Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) Bethesda. Personnel assigned to EMFs are trained to provide medical support, such as acute care and emergency care. Upon arrival, EMF Bethesda Reservists are expected to support medical relief efforts at the Javits Federal Medical Station (FMS) in New York City. The rest of the deploying Reservists are expected to support multiple hospitals in the New York City area.

Navy Mandates Face Covering

The U.S. Navy has announced that it now requires the use of cloth face coverings for all military, Navy civilian and contractors as well as family members while on DoD property, installations and facilities when maintaining proper social distancing between people isn’t possible.

The message aligns the Navy with the Centers for Disease Control’s recent recommendation strongly encouraging the wearing of cloth face coverings when in public and close proximity between people can’t be avoided.

As is the Navy’s convention, local commanders can issue exceptions to this requirement. The policy also requires anyone wearing a face covering to uncover their faces when directed to by security forces during identity checks.

While medical N95 masks are in short supply world-wide, face coverings are not, and the Navy is taking a practical approach to what can be worn. Official uniform face coverings are in the works, but until they are implemented, those in uniform can wear medical or construction type masks if they have them. If not, they can fashion their own or wear cloth coverings such as bandanas and scarfs. Anything worn must be conservative in appearance.

Any face covering must meet the following requirements:
•        Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and allow breathing without restriction
•        Cover the face only from nose to chin.
•        Must secure in place with ties or ear loops.
•        Any cloth mask must have multiple layers of fabric.