A US Navy hospital ship arrived in Los Angeles, California on Friday morning, days after President Donald Trump approved its deployment 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.
“The men and women of the USNS Mercy and the United States Navy are honored to be here in Los Angeles supporting FEMA, the state of California, and the city in their ongoing COVID-19 relief efforts,” Navy Rear Adm. John E. Gumbleton said at a press conference on Friday.
FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor on Sunday said 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 Friday, Washington state has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the US, behind New York, New Jersey, and California.
California ranks third as of Friday, with over 4,000 cases and 82 deaths. Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Trump in a letter last week to “immediately deploy” the Mercy. Newsom cited the state’s 126 new positive cases at the time, a 21% increase within a single day. Newsom’s office has estimated that 56% of Californians, or 25.5 million people, will test positive within two months.
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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.