A U.S. Navy hospital ship docked in New York will change its process for screening patients after a report claimed that just 20 people are being treated on the vessel, according to the Pentagon.
“The screening effort for the USNS Comfort will no longer require a negative test, but each patient will still be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire,” the Department of Defense (DoD) said in reference to the Navy’s Comfort ship that is docked off New York City.
The ship, which has 1,000 hospital beds, was sent to help offset the number of patients in city hospitals amid the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus pandemic, although Navy officials and a spokesperson told The New York Times and other news outlets on Thursday that only 20 patients have been admitted so far.
The Department of Defense added that “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 assistance will allow local hospital and ambulance systems to function more efficiently and focus on more serious COVID-19 patients.
“We will immediately implement this action and work with local officials in each area on the details of patient arrival,” the Pentagon said.
The USNS Comfort was sent to New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, to free up capacity in city hospitals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients.
On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the temporary hospital facility at the Javits Convention Center, which holds 2,500 beds, will treat virus patients.
“There’s no question in my mind that will get resolved quickly. You’ll see that number grow,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN on Friday, referring to the relatively small number of patients being treated on the Comfort.
“Having the Comfort here is a very, very important thing for New York City in terms of the number of patients served, but also an extraordinary morale boost when we needed it,” de Blasio added. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind, the Comfort will be filled up soon.”
The way in which the ship is being used drew criticism from New York hospital officials.
“If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,” Michael Dowling, the head of New York’s Northwell Health hospital system, told the NY Times. “Everyone can say, ‘Thank you for putting up these wonderful places and opening up these cavernous halls.’ But we’re in a crisis here, we’re in a battlefield.”
Meanwhile, at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), hospitals built by the Army Corps of Engineers at convention centers in New York, New Orleans, and Dallas will now treat CCP virus patients, the Pentagon also said. The patients must first be treated at a local hospital and will “require a lower level of medical care,” it said.
“We understand that introducing COVID-19 positive patients into the [Federal Medical Station] environments elevates the risk of transmission to other patients and our medical providers,” the news release said. “This decision was risk-informed and made to ensure that DoD can continue to provide these local communities the type of medical care they most need. Force health protection is a top priority and our medical professionals will have the required personal protective equipment needed for this mission.”