How USNS Comfort went from a symbol of hope with the president’s blessing, to heading back from NYC having treated fewer than 180 patients
Earlier this week President Donald Trump announced he would be sending the Navy hospital ship Comfort home from New York City, cutting short a highly-touted but anticlimactic mission.
USNS Comfort arrived in New York City — the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak — on March 30 to aid the city's hospitals by taking all of their non-coronavirus patients.
But it turned out that the city didn't have many non-coronavirus patients to take, with only 20 patients were admitted to the 1,000-bed hospital ship in its first day. Meanwhile, New York City hospitals were still struggling to make space for a surge of patients.
The Comfort eventually reconfigured itself into a 500-bed ship to take coronavirus patients, but never came to reaching capacity — by April 21, it had treated just 179 people.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the city no longer needed the ship, and the Comfort is now ready to sail home to Virginia for a new mission.
Scroll down for a timeline of the ship's short-lived mission.
March 17: New York City was quickly becoming a hot zone in the US coronavirus outbreak. The US Navy dispatched one of its hospital ships, USNS Comfort, to aid the city's overwhelmed medical centers.
During a March 17 press conference, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he had ordered the Navy to "lean forward" in deploying the Comfort to New York "before the end of this month."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo welcomed the help as hospitals braced for a tidal wave of coronavirus patients.
"This will be an extraordinary step," Cuomo said the following day. "It's literally a floating hospital, which will add capacity."
The Comfort is a converted super tanker that the Navy uses to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Its prior postings had taken it to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and to New York City in 2001 to treat people injured in the September 11 attacks.
The ship includes 12 fully-equipped operating rooms and capacity for 1,000 beds. It is usually manned by 71 civilians and up to 1,200 Navy medical and communications personnel.
March 29: President Trump saw off the Comfort as it left its port in Virginia to sail up to New York City. He remarked that it was a "70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the incredible people of New York."
March 30: The Comfort arrived in New York City the next day, a white beacon of hope for a city that had at the time seen more than 36,000 cases and 790 deaths. That number has since grown to more than 138,000 cases and 9,944 deaths.
Source: NYC Health
Throngs of New Yorkers broke stay-at-home orders to watch the massive former tanker come into port.[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5ea00e386985254fc7213d63%3Fwidth%3D1300%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=963&h=1b50a854bc21e6f58e08aee74d9681c260fe4d415c7a04971515d8ad157cde29&size=980x&c=1940109266 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5ea00e386985254fc7213d63%253Fwidth%253D1300%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D963%26h%3D1b50a854bc21e6f58e08aee74d9681c260fe4d415c7a04971515d8ad157cde29%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1940109266%22%7D" expand=1]
Sailors work in the ICU unit aboard USNS Comfort in New York City on April 20, 2020.
April 2: The ship is up and running. The New York Times reported that it had accepted just 20 patients on its first day and that it wasn't taking any coronavirus patients.
Michael Dowling, the head of New York's largest hospital system, called the Comfort a "joke." He told The Times: "It's pretty ridiculous. If you're not going to help us with the people we need help with, what's the purpose?"[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5ea19ff8d553f8555d1c5e43%3Fwidth%3D1300%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=909&h=4948357dcccceead664a89a7e29db559d527f71daef70d480b679b86c4d04746&size=980x&c=3089219013 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5ea19ff8d553f8555d1c5e43%253Fwidth%253D1300%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D909%26h%3D4948357dcccceead664a89a7e29db559d527f71daef70d480b679b86c4d04746%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3089219013%22%7D" expand=1]
Cmdr. Lori Cici, left, and Lt. Akneca Bumfield stand by for an inbound ambulance carrying a patient arriving for medical care aboard aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort on April 9.
The crew of the comfort practice how to bring patients on board the ship after docking in New York City on March 31, 2020.
April 6: Following the outrage, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked Trump for permission to let the ship take coronavirus patients.
Source: New York Post
Trump agreed and the Navy reconfigured the ship into a 500-bed hospital to space out patients and lower the risk of spreading the highly-infectious virus.
Source: CBS News
That same day, before the ship started taking coronavirus patients, a crew member tested positive for the disease. This is despite the fact that the crew was ordered to quarantine for two weeks before their departure.
That number grew to four in the following weeks. All of the sick crew members have since recovered and are back to work, a Navy spokesman later told The Virginian-Pilot.
Source: Business Insider
April 21: Even after moving to take coronavirus patients, the Comfort didn't come close to reaching capacity — even as the city's hospitals remained overwhelmed. As of Tuesday, the ship had treated a total of 179 patients.
During a meeting with the president, Cuomo said that New York no longer needed the Comfort and said it could be sent to a more hard-hit area.
Trump said he had taken Cuomo up on his offer and would recall the Comfort to its home port in Virginia, where it will prepare for its next posting. The new mission remains unclear.
Trump admitted during a White House briefing that part of the reason the ship was never put to much use in New York City was because its arrival coincided with the opening of a temporary hospital in the Javits convention center.
Source: Business Insider
April 24: The Comfort is still in port in New York City, even though Trump said it will be leaving as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the situation in New York appears to be improving. Last Saturday Cuomo said New York may be "past the plateau" with hospitalizations on the decline. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he's seeing "real progress."