Trump deploying Navy hospital ships during coronavirus ‘war’

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a briefing late Wednesday morning that President Donald Trump is dispatching the USNS Comfort to New York Harbor.

A short time later Trump said both the Comfort and USNS Mercy would be “launched in the next week or so” to help in what the president called the “war against the Chinese virus.”

“They’re getting ready to come up to New York. He’s [Cuomo] excited about it,” Trump said.

The president said the Comfort currently is berthed in San Diego. In fact, the Comfort is at its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. The Mercy is in San Diego. “We will be picking the destination shortly” for the West Coast ship, Trump said.

In a letter Tuesday, four members of Congress from New York asked Trump to deploy the Comfort to New York City to relieve hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus cases. The ship reportedly would be used for patients not infected with the coronavirus.

“We write to ask that you immediately ready the naval hospital ship USNS Comfort, currently being refitted in Norfolk, VA for deployment to New York City in support of our city’s fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote to Trump and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday.

The letter from Rep. Max Rose and signed by Reps. Nydia Velazquez, Jose Serrano and Tom Suozzi said the Comfort contains 12 fully equipped operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, laboratory facilities and an oxygen-producing plant.

The lawmakers said the Comfort has been deployed to crisis zones around the world, including Puerto Rico in 2017, and has treated more than 550,000 disaster victims.

“Given the contagious nature of coronavirus, we suggest that the hospital facilities aboard the USNS Comfort be used to treat non-coronavirus patients and reduce the capacity of hospitals ashore. Naval personnel can also supply and assist operations onshore while using the ships as a clean operating base for relief services,” the letter said.

Neither Trump nor Cuomo said when the Comfort would arrive in New York or when the Mercy would be deployed on the West Coast.

“The operational readiness of the naval hospital ships is not immediate,” NBC News correspondent Geoff Bennett tweeted. “The USNS Comfort is in maintenance on the East Coast with no medical personnel currently on board. The USNS Mercy is in port on the West Coast with very few medical personnel on board.”

During his task force’s press conference Wednesday, Trump remained confident the spread of the coronavirus would be stopped.

“We’re going to defeat the invisible enemy,” he said.

Asked why he was referring to the coronavirus as a Chinese virus and whether that was a racist comment, Trump responded, “It’s not racist at all. It comes from China.”

He went on to assert that “China tried to say it was caused by American soldiers. That cannot happen.”

The president also said he believed Chinese officials “could have given us  a lot earlier notice” about the virus.

Trump contended, “It comes from China. … Nobody is questioning that.”