Navy Vessels Nearly Empty, What’s the Story?

Navy Vessels Nearly Empty, What's the Story?

( – In order to take some of the pressure off civilian resources, the US Navy deployed the hospital ships USNS Mercy (west coast) and Comfort (NYC) each with 1,000 available beds. However, days after they reached port they’re mostly empty, with no COVID-19 patients, and the media is asking “why.”

The answer is as simple as it is frustrating. They were designed to be floating combat hospitals (think M*A*S*H but on the water), and are not set up to house those infected with a highly-infectious virus. The mission was to take other patients with heart attacks or traffic accident victims so that the limited resources and efforts of the overworked medical professionals in land-based hospitals could be centered on coronavirus treatments.

There are no individual patient rooms on these vessels, instead, double-stacked bunks are lined up along the walls. It’s physically impossible to create the necessary distancing between people during a pandemic, especially when they may be more susceptible to infection while recovering from their primary condition.

Protocols in place mean that EMS cannot deliver those in need directly to dockside because each of them needs to be screened for COVID-19. This means stretching resources even further because it requires two ambulance runs.

This is a true Catch-22 for officials. How do they alleviate the crush on the hospitals while trying to keep the curve flattened on the ships? The military is revising its rules on the fly, like striking the provision of a negative virus test, so there’s hope the crisis can be put to rest soon.

Copyright 2020,