USNS Comfort to leave NYC harbor soon after assisting in coronavirus relief

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The Naval hospital ship USNS Comfort is discharging or transferring its remaining coronavirus patients before leaving New York City's harbor.

The Comfort and its sister ship, the Mercy, were deployed in late March to New York and California, respectively, to support efforts to combat the pandemic.

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The Comfort, with 1,000 beds and about 1,000 medical personnel, docked in New York on March 30 as coronavirus cases were surging, but wound up being sparsely used.

Initially, neither hospital ship intended to accept coronavirus patients. However, a series of complications forced the Comfort to alter its mission.

A journalist records speakers at a press briefing following the arrival of the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship with a 1,000 bed-capacity, March 30, 2020, at Pier 90 in New York. The ship will be used to treat patients who do not have the new coronavirus as land-based hospitals fill up to capacity with those that do. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A journalist records speakers at a press briefing following the arrival of the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship with a 1,000 bed-capacity, March 30, 2020, at Pier 90 in New York. The ship will be used to treat patients who do not have the new coronavirus as land-based hospitals fill up to capacity with those that do. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Patients had to first go to a city hospital for evaluation before being transferred to the Comfort. Despite this extra step, the ship ended up receiving at least five COVID-positive patients within its first week of operation.

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A COVID-positive patient had initially been transferred by mistake to the ship on April 4.

After another week, the ship faced criticism for only treating around 20 patients. By April 11, at least three personnel on the ship had tested positive for coronavirus as well.

The lack of use elicited criticism from doctors in the city and shortly after, the Comfort was designated for COVID-surge assistance.

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However, as of Tuesday, the Comfort had only treated 179 patients, with 56 aboard that day, according to Military.com.

President Trump asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio if the ship could return to its home port in Virginia, and both officials agreed that it could.

In this March 30, 2020 file photo, the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is escorted up the Hudson River on its way to New York City. On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, while expressing confidence that stresses on New York City’s hospital system are easing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the ship deployed to New York City to help fight the coronavirus outbreak is no longer needed. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens. File)

In this March 30, 2020 file photo, the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is escorted up the Hudson River on its way to New York City. On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, while expressing confidence that stresses on New York City’s hospital system are easing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the ship deployed to New York City to help fight the coronavirus outbreak is no longer needed. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens. File)

Cuomo has repeatedly stated that New York has flattened the curve and that “the worst is behind us.” New York has seen a net decrease in hospitalizations for 12 straight days and had 13,524 hospitalizations on Saturday – the fewest for the state since April 1.

“The president sent up a Navy ship, the Comfort -- a hospital ship which was very good to have if we need overflow,” Cuomo told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. “It did give us comfort, but we don’t need it anymore. If they need to deploy it somewhere else, they should take it.”

No date has been set for the Comfort's departure, but it is expected to be later this week. When the ship returns to Virginia, it will restock before potentially deploying to another area in need.

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The Mercy is expected to leave California on a similar timeline, but Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti have yet to approve the withdrawal.