President Donald Trump has approved the US military’s deployment of a Navy hospital ship to Los Angeles, California, to bolster coronavirus response efforts.
During a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Trump confirmed that the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship docked in San Diego, will be “immediately” deploying to the port of Los Angeles within a week. Trump and his administration described California as a “hotbed” for potential coronavirus cases in the coming days.
FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor in the press conference that despite earlier indications the Mercy was deploying to Washington, the ship would have the “greatest impact” in California based on the potential need for hospital beds there. As of Sunday, Washington state has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the US, behind New York.
California ranks fourth as of Sunday, with nearly 1,500 cases. Gov. Gavin Newsom, asked Trump in a letter on Thursday to “immediately deploy” the Mercy. Newsom cited the state’s 126 new positive cases at the time, a 21% increase within one day. Newsom’s office has estimated that 56% of Californians, or 25.5 million people, will test positive within two months.
Gaynor reiterated that the Mercy will focus on alleviating the burden from local hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients. Like the USNS Comfort, which is deploying to New York in the coming weeks, the Mercy will intake trauma cases, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“Even though there are more cases right now in Washington, the projected needs for beds in California is five times more [than] that of Washington,” Gaynor said. “The Mercy will be used to take pressure off of local hospitals, other medical needs — and not for treating COVID-19 cases.”
The ships have made several humanitarian deployments, including to Puerto Rico for relief efforts after Hurricane Maria in 2017, and to Indonesia after a devastating earthquake in 2005.
The ships are staffed by dozens of civilians and up to 1,200 sailors, according to the Navy. Both ships include 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed hospital, a medical laboratory, and a pharmacy. The ships also have helicopter decks for transport.