Coronavirus patients delivered to hospital ship Comfort in New York by mistake: US officials

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EXCLUSIVE - Multiple patients infected with coronavirus were transferred to the hospital ship Comfort from the Javits Center in New York by mistake, three U.S. officials tell Fox News.

The number of Covid-19 patients brought on board the hospital ship was estimated to be “less than five,” one official said. The information had not been previously reported.

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The patients were transferred sometime Friday, according to the officials. At the time that the patients were transferred to the hospital ship, the initial screening did not indicate they were positive, officials said.

The top general leading the coronavirus response for the U.S. military told Fox News there was another COVID-19 patient who showed up to the hospital ship Comfort in New York earlier Saturday after being delivered by ambulance. The patient later tested positive on board while in isolation.

“We are treating the emergency situation that needs to be treated,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy said in a phone interview with Fox News Saturday afternoon and disclosed the new case aboard Comfort.

While Navy officials say the handful of previously unknown COVID-19 patients testing positive for the virus on board is proof the protocols put in place are working, it’s also a sign of the complexity this pandemic presents for medical personnel battling the pandemic in New York.

Until Friday, the 3,000-bed makeshift hospital at the Javit Center only treated non-COVID-19 patients.  One day earlier, President Trump approved New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request to have Javits treat COVID patients.

That meant all the patients at Javits -- a few dozen in all -- had to be sent to the hospital ship Comfort about 10 blocks away.  Some of those patients later tested positive on board, as Fox News first reported Saturday afternoon.

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The hospital ship is located on Pier 90 on Manhattan’s west side and arrived in New York Monday.  The vessel has a “couple dozen” patients on board right now, according to chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

Part of the protocol before receiving patients onboard Comfort is for a coronavirus test to be performed.  The swab test came back hours later, the patients remained in isolation and spent a night onboard the vessel, which is only supposed to treat trauma patients, not Covid-19 positive patients.

About a dozen patients from the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan were transferred to the hospital ship Comfort one day after President Trump approved New York Gov. Cuomo’s request to have Covid-19 patients treated at the Javits Center.

All the patients at Javits Center were then transferred to the hospital ship a short distance away where they were isolated and tested for the novel coronavirus.

Up to the point of embarking aboard the hospital ship, the patients had only filled out a questionnaire and had their temperature taken as part of an initial screening process. It’s been reported that half of people infected with coronavirus  show no symptoms, according to the latest data.

The Covid-19 positive patients have already been delivered back to the Javits center Saturday morning to continue their treatment, one official said.

The Javits Center has been transformed into a 3,000 bed makeshift hospital by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The officials called the risk to the hospital ship’s crew “low,” because of the protocols were already in place.

“We were prepared with a contingency plan in case we received patients that later tested positive. Immediately upon arrival the patients were isolated while awaiting the test results,” the official added.

Another official pointed out this was why the hospital ship did not want to fill all 1,000 beds on board too quickly because the risk of the virus coming on board is so great.

The Comfort crew is scrubbing the area where the patients were housed on board.  All U.S. Navy medical personnel were wearing complete PPE (personal protective equipment), the officials added.

“We have infectious disease specialists on board as well,” another official said.

Cmdr. Ashley Hockycko, spokeswoman for U.S. Second Fleet, told Fox News: "While admitting patients who were transferred to USNS Comfort for treatment, a few patients tested positive for COVID-19.

"The Comfort has infection control procedures that are followed just like hospitals ashore. Our medical experts on board are well prepared for cases like this, and have taken the appropriate precautionary measures. The patients were isolated and received care aboard the ship while working to transfer the patients as soon as practical to the Javits Federal Medical Station, which is treating COVID-19 patients. The Comfort is capable of continuing its mission.”

Right now both hospital ships Comfort in New York and Mercy in Los Angeles do not take Covid-19 patients, but top Pentagon leaders are “reassessing” that policy, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, told Fox News’ Harris Faulkner Friday afternoon.

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That decision is “not imminent,” a Pentagon spokesman later said in a press conference Friday.

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of 3,500 people in New York, a number that has doubled since Wednesday.