The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) returned to Naval Station Norfolk after supporting the Department of Defense (DOD) response efforts to New York and New Jersey during the coronavirus outbreak, May 2.
After Comfort returns to Naval Station Norfolk, it will take the necessary steps to return to a “Ready 5” status to be prepared for future tasking including COVID-19 or other humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. Comfort spent 31 days at Pier 90 in New York City, providing relief to a healthcare system stressed by the surge of COVID-19 patients.
“It is a true honor to have led this professional team, which provided world-class health care to the people of New York and New Jersey,” said Capt. Joseph O’Brien, mission commander of Task Force New York. “Our priority now is ensuring the health and safety of our team to be ready for tasking elsewhere, if called upon.”
During the transit from New York City to Norfolk, VA all personnel involved in the mission aboard USNS Comfort will be tested for COVID-19, and will execute a 14-day restriction of movement (ROM) following completion of the mission. The purpose of the ROM is to separate personnel who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, but are not yet symptomatic, from personnel who have not been exposed. As part of this ROM they will be isolated by either remaining on the USNS Comfort, in their own homes, or in other lodging accommodations where their movement will be restricted to their immediate area. Personnel will also be tested for COVID-19 a second time at the end of their 14-day ROM period.
The ship, which arrived in New York City March 30, was originally tasked with providing care to non-COVID patients, bringing the first aboard on April 1. It quickly became apparent that in order to be of help to the city, Comfort needed to treat all patients, regardless of their COVID status. On April 6, the ship began accepting COVID-positive patients following a thorough assessment of the existing design of the ship. Military Sealift Command civil service mariners physically separated the hospital from the rest of the ship by cordoning off doors and ladder wells on the main deck; reconfiguring the ship to admit and treat all patients.
The DOD pursued a three-pronged effort in New York City through the high-end capability provided by Comfort, large capacity within the Javits Center, and augmentation of medical professionals directly to 11 local hospitals.
Over 180 patients were treated aboard the ship and approximately 70 percent of the patient population was COVID-positive. More than 110 surgical procedures such as appendectomies, bronchoscopies, chest tube insertions, laparoscopic procedures, and tracheotomies were performed aboard.
Additionally, the Comfort’s radiology technicians performed more than 540 x-rays and CT-scans, while the pharmacy department prepared more than 1,300 intravenous and oral medications for the patients who received care aboard. The ship’s supply department ensured the distribution of ample personal protective equipment for all personnel, which were procured via a robust logistics system.
“USNS Comfort demonstrated what it means to be adaptable and resilient. We left Norfolk with the mission to care for COVID-negative patients and it was quickly determined there was a greater need that resulted in acceptance of both COVID-negative and positive patients,” said Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of Comfort’s medical treatment facility. “I am proud of the impact the crew has made on the people of New York and New Jersey. It wasn’t about the number of patients, but the great care that we could provide to each person who came aboard.”
U.S. 2nd Fleet exercises operational and administrative authorities over assigned ships, aircraft, and landing forces on the East Coast and the Atlantic. When directed, C2F conducts exercises and operations within the U.S. European Command AOR as an expeditionary fleet, providing NAVEUR an additional maneuver arm to operate forces dynamically in theater.