With over 1,426,096 cases of COVID-19 globally, many places are feeling the pressure of a sharp rise in critically ill patients to treat. However, it appears that few locations have been so severely hit as New York. In fact on 11th March 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York. With a ban on events and public gatherings of over 500 people. Something that is at this current time set to stay in place indefinitely. In response to this crisis, the US government took the unprecedented step of deploying the USNS Comfort, A military medical ship. To help to ease the burden on New York’s medical systems. A decision that while seen was controversial in some quarters has some distinct benefits. A topic that will be discussed in more depth below.
The USNS Comfort Comes To New York’s Aid
On the 30th March, The USNS Comfort docked at Manhattan’s Pier 90. Its mission was to provide relief to NY burgeoning medical facilities. Primarily by relieving them of their emergency non-COVID -19 cases.
However, unlike its sister ship the USNS Mercy, currently docked in LA, the Comfort’s remit has been changed. In fact, up to 500 of its 1000 person bed capacity is expected to be filled with some of the worst coronavirus cases from the New York area.
Such a situation was primarily brought about by the fact that a crew member aboard the Comfort tested positive for corvid-19 on Monday. While five patients unconnected to this crew member also tested positive for the virus.
Of course, with such a U-turn, questions have begun to bubble to the surface. These include whether such a ship is truly equipped to deal with infectious outbreaks? While some also wish to know what patients can expect if they are taken there? Additionally, many people are concerned that if the crew of the USNS comfort couldn’t keep COVID-19 off the ship, that the quarantine measures on board may not be up to scratch.
The good news is that in the following paragraphs, the answers to these questions will become clear.
What can you expect if you or a loved one is treated on the USNS Comfort?
One of the most significant advantages of using the support vessel USNS Comfort is that it comes under the military’s directives. What that means is if you are taken there for treatment you can expect to not be charged for your medical bills. This being something that will come as a great relief to many of the New York population.
It’s not a luxury set up though, and that means bunk beds in wards rather than individual rooms. It also means that while they have all the medical mod cons you could need, entertainment like TV isn’t on the menu. Although for those on ventilators fighting for their lives, this is very unlikely to be an issue.
Of course, the wards treating COVID patients will be separated from the rest. However, just like any other hospital facility dealing with the COVID outbreak, visitors are not allowed to minimize the risk of contamination and the spread of infection.
What facilities does the USNS Comfort have to COVID-19 Patients?
Some experts have suggested that the Comfort was designed to deal with battlefield injuries rather than an infectious outbreak. Therefore it’s not the best choice for a city overwhelmed with the virus. In fact, some have even gone so far as to suggest that there are more suitable facilities. With seconded cruise liners coming up as one option.
However, there is sustained evidence that the Comfort is more than sufficiently set up to offer medical support to some of the worst cases of COVID-19.
In fact, there is an actual decontamination area onboard, 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a pharmacy and a massive 1000-bed hospital facility. The Comfort and its sister ship the Mercy will also have up to date ICU equipment available. With those all-important ventilators, as well as the capacity to make their own oxygen for patients. Something that is absolutely vital for those struggling with the virus. There is even a helipad where critical patients can be bright to the facility quickly as with as little disruption and therefore risk to life as possible.
Additionally, this support vessel is crewed by over 3000 civil and naval staff and a massive 956 naval trained medical personnel. That is, on average, almost one taught medical person per patient when at full capacity.
What is the protocol for a COVID-19 outbreak on the USNS Comfort?
Apart from the praise that our brave men and women serving on the USNS Comfort are receiving, there are some mutterings about outbreaks and contamination onboard. After all, even such a massive support vessel as the Comfort is a relatively small area and confined space where many people will be working alongside those that are sick.
However, what these critics fail to consider is that this is pretty much the case for any medical facility. Especially ones that are offering care for those infected with COVID -19.
In fact, all over the world, there have been cases of medical workers contracting the virus. However, just like in these facilities, on the Comfort, the procedure will be to use PPE, be vigilant for symptoms, test and isolate. This means that there should be no more risk involved for medical and navy workers aboard the Comfort. While the general population of New York is at no more risk than they would be from any other local medical instruction currently treating the virus.
In summary, when the USNS Comfort docked at Manhattan pier 90, on the 30th March, it was not intended to treat COVID-19 paints directly. However, this is no longer the case. Fortunately, as this massive support vessel is fully fitted out with state-of-the-art medical equipment, it is now able to treat those worst hit by the virus. An act that during this time of pandemic is very welcome indeed to many New Yorkers and their families.