IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump says hospital ships heading into coronavirus battle, Navy says they're not ready yet

The USNS Comfort would be berthed at New York Harbor and take non-infected patients. The USNS Mercy is also on deck to be deployed but it's unclear to where.
Image: A Naval aircrewman flies in a Seahawk helicopter alongside the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, in the Pacific Ocean on on June 24, 2019.
A Naval aircrewman flies in a Seahawk helicopter alongside the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, in the Pacific Ocean on on June 24, 2019.Morgan K. Nall / US Navy via AFP - Getty Images file

President Donald Trump is sending in the Navy to battle the coronavirus crisis, specifically two massive hospital ships.

They’re in “tip top shape,” Trump said Wednesday, and will likely be launched “in the next week or so."

But it’s anybody’s guess when those ships will come in.

The USNS Comfort, which Trump said is bound for New York Harbor, is currently undergoing maintenance somewhere on the east coast and there are no medical personnel on board, NBC News has learned.

The other ship, the USNS Mercy, is also being spruced-up and lacks a medical crew. It was not immediately known where the Mercy would be deployed.

And in a statement, the Navy indicated they are ready to “provide possible DSCA support if called upon.”

“Both ships are currently working to complete scheduled maintenance cycles and identify necessary medical staffing to deploy as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Earlier, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Trump agreed to send the ships after he told the president they won’t have enough hospital beds if the crisis worsens.

“The state can’t do this on its own,” he said. “We can’t build new hospitals in 45 days.”

The Comfort has a dozen operating rooms and 1,000 beds and would be used to house patients not infected with COVID-19 so hospitals can free up more space for coronavirus patients, Cuomo said. The ship was an oil tanker in a previous life and its home port is in the Navy base in Norfolk Virginia.

Both ships are nearly 900 feet long and about 10 stories tall, making them the largest hospital ships in the world, according to the Navy.

In the meantime, Cuomo said the state is waiving health department regulations “to get more beds into existing hospitals.”

“Right now, in New York specifically, the rate of the curve suggests that in 45 days we could have up to an input of people who need 110,000 beds,” Cuomo said. “That compares to our current capacity of 53,000 beds.”

Also, the governor said, they are “reaching out to retired nurses, retired doctors, reaching out to medical schools” for more manpower.

“You need a reserve capacity,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, who had earlier called on the Army Corps of Engineers to start erecting field hospitals, said he will be speaking later Wednesday with a rep for the Corps about expanding existing facilities and refurbishing new spaces to deal with the lack of hospital beds.

Currently, the U.S. has roughly 924,100 hospital beds, according to a 2018 American Hospital Association Survey.

But many of those beds are already occupied by patients, the association warned.

There are also 46,800 to 64,000 ICU beds available and an additional 51,000 ICU beds reserved for patients with severe burns or heart problems, as well as infants and children.

In a report released last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security calculated that a pandemic would mean 1 million people needing to be hospitalized and up to 200,000 more needing intensive care. A severe pandemic could mean 9.6 million hospitalizations and 2.9 million people needing intensive care, the center said.