Few patients being treated on hospital ships sent to NY, LA

Washington, April 4 (IANS) The US Navy hospital ships that President Donald Trump sent to Los Angeles and New York City to help ease the burden on local civilian hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic have accepted fewer than 40 patients thus far despite having a combined total of 2,000 beds and 1,800 health care professionals.

In the first week since they docked, the USNS Mercy in Los Angeles and the USNS Comfort in New York City have treated 17 and 20 patients, respectively, or less then 2 per cent of their total joint capacity, Efe news reported.
Lt. Ada Willis, a Navy public affairs officer, told Efe news on Friday that the number of patients being treated on board the Mercy thus far reflects the fact that this extra capacity was provided before it was needed, allowing the crew to train, prepare and, if needed, accept patients at the dock.
Authorities in both cities a few days ago had hailed the arrival of the two ships, whose purpose is to provide medical and surgical care to non-COVID-19 patients to free overwhelmed local hospitals focusing on patients with the coronavirus, saying they were incredible gifts for the inhabitants of Los Angeles and New York.
Whereas Los Angeles County thus far has registered around 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 78 deaths, according to official figures, there is a much greater need to alleviate the burden on hospitals in New York City, which has around 50,000 confirmed cases and has had to set up different field hospitals in emblematic sites like Central Park and the tennis complex that hosts the US Open tournament.
Asked about the underutilization of the USNS Comfort in Manhattan, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he expects more people will be admitted soon to that hospital ship, which has a capacity for 750 patients but received just 20 between Monday, when it arrived, and Thursday.
The number of patients on board will “change very rapidly”, De Blasio said in an MSNBC program on Friday.
“I’m sure that ship will be very full soon,” he said. “They have to be smart about what cases they take and create a protocol that’s going to work because it’s going to get very busy, very quickly next week. So I’m convinced over the next few days they’ll be prepared and they’ll be filling up.”
For his part, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo told the media on Friday that the Navy does not want COVID-19 patients on board the ship because of the difficulty of disinfecting the vessel afterward.
That is in contrast with the field hospital set up at the Javits Center in Manhattan, which the Governor said Thursday will be receiving coronavirus patients.
He added in Friday’s briefing that the level of treatment activity for non-COVID-19 patients at New York City hospitals has slowed due to the cancellation of elective surgeries and a drop in crimes and accidents stemming from a statewide stay-at-home order and the shuttering of non-essential businesses.
On Friday, the US Defense Department responded to reports about the underutilization of the USNS Comfort by saying it will relax its patient screening process.
“Screening for care on the USNS Comfort will be modified and will now occur pier-side in an effort to reduce the backlog at some of the nearby New York hospitals,” the Department said in a statement.
“The screening effort for the USNS Comfort will no longer require a negative (COVID-19) test, but each patient will still be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire.”
As of Saturday morning, the US has registered 7,152 coronavirus deaths, with New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the country, accounting for 1,867 of the total count, according to figures from the Washington-based Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
The US also has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world at 277,953.
New York accounts for 102,863, while other states with over 10,000 cases include New Jersey, California, and Michigan, Xinhua news agency reported citing the figures.