By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 07, 2020) -- The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort and the Defense Department-run alternate care facility at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, both in New York City, are now taking patients with COVID-19, defense medical officials said.
"For the Comfort to really ... be a part of the relief for the pressure on the New York City hospitals, we have to be able to do this," said Navy Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, Commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet, during a telephonic news conference today. "This is where there are a tremendous number of patients in the hospitals, most of which are COVID-positive."
Lewis said that among patients hospitalized for something other than COVID-19, many are also COVID-positive. So for the Defense Department to really be a part of the solution in New York, the Comfort and the Javits Center must also take patients with COVID-19. And they've done a good job at configuring their efforts to make that happen, he added.
"We're fully transitioned," Lewis said. "We've done some minor configurations on ship, and there is no risk to any of the patients that are non-COVID at this time. We were able to isolate within the ship non-COVID patients from the COVID-positive patients."
To ensure the ship's crew remains healthy, Lewis said, the ship has been divided into a "red zone," in which patient interaction occurs with medical staff, and a "green zone," where the ship's nonmedical crew operates. "They don't cross back and forth from red to green," he added.
Lewis added that there are no plans for the hospital ship USNS Mercy, now in Los Angeles, to make the same transition. However, he said, procedures are in place to do so if needed.
At the Javits Center, which is expected to be able to house up to 2,500 patients eventually, they are looking to accept convalescent COVID-19 patients -- that is, patients who have mostly recovered from COVID-19, but who still need to be tended to.
The Comfort has 100 intensive care unit beds with ventilators. Military leaders are hoping to expand total patient capacity on the Comfort to 500 beds. The Javits Center alternate care facility has 42 ventilators, with more on the way.
Another 48-bed intensive care unit is en route from the Army Support Activity located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Army Maj. Gen. William A. Hall, commander of Joint Task Force Civil Support, said. "It will arrive later today, and then in another 48 hours we'll have it up. So that'll give us 96 ICU beds to be able to receive patients as required."
Hall also said that better communication in New York between DOD and the local medical community has helped local hospitals better understand what the department can provide.
"The level of understanding [about] what we're able to provide has grown, and so we're seeing our patient count go up," Hall said. "We're continuing to work that every day to make sure that we can help them offload the patients that we can accept at the Javits Center."
Lewis added that DOD medical leadership in New York sees both the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort as a "single ecosystem," with the Comfort providing care for emergency trauma and urgent care patients and Javits primarily for COVID-19 convalescence.
The number of patients at both the Javits Center and the Comfort is expected to grow, said Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, and the Defense Department, he said, is "flooding the area with medical teams."
The Comfort is staffed by 1,000 medical personnel, while the Javits Center has a medical staff of 917. Hoffman said additional Army urban area medical task force units with 340 personnel are expected to arrive in New York today, while three others will report to New Jersey and Connecticut.
Additionally, Hoffman said, 325 DOD medical professionals recently arrived in New York and will support 11 public hospitals beginning tomorrow. Each of those hospitals will receive anywhere from 20 to 30 medical personnel, including doctors, assistants, nurses, respiratory therapists and other professionals.
"We also expect an additional 775 medical professionals to travel to New York City in the coming days to further support our efforts," Hoffman said. "These will be a mix of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, including Air Force reservists."
Hoffman also told reporters that DOD has provided 5 million N95 masks to the state of New York and that the New York National Guard has helped to deliver 350,000 meals in all five boroughs of New York City.
"The Department of Defense stands with New York and its strong frontline medical personnel who have been fighting the virus for months," Hoffman said. "They're an inspiration for the millions of men and women at the DOD and indeed all Americans."