A Navy hospital ship left New York City on Thursday, a month after it was sent to relieve stress on hospitals at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
After arriving to great fanfare, the USNS Comfort treated just 182 people as a surge in cases in the hard-hit city fell short of the worst-case projections. The last dozen patients on the ship were discharged or transferred to other hospitals over the weekend.
Watch coverage of the ship’s departure in the player above.
Eleven people that were treated on the ship died from coronavirus, the Defense Department said. Several ship personnel came down with coronavirus while deployed to New York.
A Pentagon spokesman called the ship’s departure “a sure sign of modest progress in mitigating the virus in the nation’s hardest hit city and is a welcome sign.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that he and President Donald Trump agreed the Comfort was no longer needed in New York City.
“I believe Comfort not only brought comfort but also saved lives,” Cuomo said.
The Comfort and its 620 doctors, nurses and other crew members will return to the homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, where the ship will be restocked and be readied for another possible assignment. It’s due to depart New York around noon Thursday.
Trump said he asked Cuomo if “we could bring the Comfort back to its base in Virginia so that we could have it in other locations.”
The president sent the Comfort to his home state last month as projections showed it would need to double hospital capacity to 110,000 beds by the end of April. Disease-related hospitalizations peaked far below that — at 18,825 on April 12 — and have ticked down considerably since then. The number of new hospital admissions is holding at around 950 people a day.
More than 18,000 people in the state have died from coronavirus, most of them in New York City. That total doesn’t include more than 5,300 deaths in the city that were attributed to the virus on death certificates but weren’t confirmed by a lab test.
The Defense Department said it did not have information on how much the Comfort’s mission to New York cost.
The Comfort has a capacity of up to 1,000 hospital beds, but according to New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, it had 427 set up for the coronavirus crisis — and all of those weren’t needed.
Originally deployed to care for patients without coronavirus, the Comfort switched gears days after arriving to a Manhattan pier March 30 and started accepting them as the city’s hospitals became overrun with people suffering from the disease.
That came after hospital administrators, relaying concerns of doctors and other emergency room staff, practically begged the government to open the hospital.
“I understand the intention maybe of being helpful, but if you open up these facilities and you create all these beds, and then you decide that you don’t want to take sick patients, it’s a pretty useless proposition,” Michael Dowling, president and CEO of hospital operator Northwell Health, said in an interview early April.
“This is the Department of Defense. We are in a war today with a virus. I assume that they’re used to dealing in wartime battlefields. This is a wartime battlefield right now,” Dowling added.