By Brooke Singman
Published March 18, 2020
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that President Trump agreed to dispatch a Navy hospital ship to the New York City Harbor to “add capacity” for those who need to be admitted due to complications of coronavirus.
Cuomo has warned that the virus puts stress on New York state hospitals, and that the state’s hospital system only has 53,000 beds. For days, he has weighed how to create additional space for the expected influx of patients in the coming days and weeks due to the virus.
Cuomo, during a press conference Wednesday, said that the president agreed to dispatch the USNS Comfort hospital ship, which the Pentagon offered as part of the domestic response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The USNS Comfort has 1,000 beds and is run by military personnel, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.
“The president will dispatch it immediately,” Cuomo said, noting the ship will remain in New York City harbor.
Cuomo added that New York City is the "natural" place for the ship to dock, noting the "density" of the population.
"We must increase the current hospital capacity," he said.
After the press conference, Cuomo tweeted: "The federal government is sending a hospital ship to New York, the USNS Comfort."
"The Comfort, which has about 1,000 rooms on it, will be moored in New York Harbor," Cuomo continued. "Hospital beds are what we need."
The announcement came after Cuomo repeatedly called for the Army Corps of Engineers to help build new hospitals to manage the outbreak.
New York state currently has the most cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the country with more than 1,700 positive cases reported by Wednesday morning, and 16 virus-related deaths.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox News Tuesday that the U.S. military "remains ready and capable of defending the American people, protecting the nation and safeguarding our interests abroad."
Field hospitals and a fleet of hospital ships could be called in to help with overflow capacity of infected patients, he said.
The USNS Comfort was in port in Norfolk, Va. undergoing repairs after a six-month tour in South America and would not be ready to arrive in New York until "mid April" at the earliest. At this point, efforts are being made to expedite the timeline.
But Esper said that the ship's capabilities, and field hospitals, "are focused on trauma," rather than infectious disease.
"Whether it's our field hospitals or our hospital ships, they are focused on trauma. They do not have necessarily the space, the segreated s[ace, to deal with infectious disease," Esper told Fox News' Bret Baier Tuesday. "We don't have any 500 bed hospitals designed for infectious disease...That does not exist in the inventory."
The U.S. Navy said Wednesday that despite the dispatch to areas affected by COVID-19, the ships will not treat patients who have fallen ill with the virus.
"The Comfort and Mercy will not deploy to treat COVID patients, but will be made available to assist with treatment of other patients in coastal locations where local health professionals are necessarily focused on a large number of COVID cases," the Navy said in a statement.
As of mid-day Wednesday, the U.S. currently had more than 7,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C. The U.S., so far, has seen 115 COVID-19-related deaths.
The Trump administration’s coronavirus task force predicted Tuesday that the number of cases in the U.S. could peak in about 45 days.
Fox News' Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.