NEW YORK — A Navy hospital ship dispatched to help with the response to the coronavirus pandemic arrived Monday in New York harbor, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ominously warned residents that the worst is yet to come.
The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship with approximately 1,000 patient beds, will dock in the harbor to alleviate the strain on the city's hospitals as cases of COVID-19 climb across all five boroughs.
Health officials report more than 66,497 cases of the coronavirus in New York State, and more than 36,200 of those cases are in New York City. More than 1,200 people have died.
The ship will be used to treat less critical patients and those who have not been infected with the virus in order to free up space in hospitals, which have become overrun with COVID-19 patients. At a press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said watching the ship arrive was a "very emotional moment" and called it "a beacon of hope."
"Help has come. Relief is on its way," de blasio said. "There have been times in recent days when a lot of New Yorkers have felt alone. … I want to say to all New Yorkers you are not alone."
Of the 1,000 beds, 750 will become available almost immediately and patients will begin to be transferred on Tuesday. The mayor said the Comfort will allow entire hospitals to transform into intensive care units for the most critical patients. De Blasio estimated that nearly half of New Yorkers could become infected with the coronavirus and said New York City will have to triple its hospital capacity by May.
With the ship comes approximately 1,200 personnel, as well as labs, a pharmacy and operating rooms. De Blasio said the ship brings "an extraordinary complement of health care professionals" and he is "thankful that our nation has heard our plea for help."
Thomas Von Essen, the regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region II, said the ship's arrival was a "sign of what our government is like when we push our government to act."
"Everybody you know is affected by the coronavirus," Essen said. "I know how tough the people of this city are … and once again we need to be together."
Cuomo echoed this sentiment in a separate news briefing, saying "If there was ever a moment for unity, this, my friends, is the moment."
De Blasio said he has told President Donald Trump that "the toughest weeks are ahead" and New York City continues to need additional help. The mayor warned that the worst of the pandemic will not be over by Easter but that the worst could last through May.
Cuomo also warned the state has to get ready for the apex of the outbreak. Plan ahead and get ahead of the problem, he added.
"You have to prepare before the storm hits," the governor said.
Both the mayor and the governor compared the situation to "wartime" and said the response to COVID-19 must look like the response to war.
"Forget the politics, we have a national crisis," Cuomo said. "We are at war. Let's get over [politics] and again lead by example."
The mayor said the city is continuing to search for ventilators, life-saving machines for the most critical patients, as well as personal protective equipment, though he said those supplies should last until next week.
He thanked the individuals and companies that have come forward to volunteer time and donate supplies and assured the public that New York City will be there for other cities when the time comes.
"People are moving fast to get help to New York City, and we appreciate it and we need it," the mayor said. "When the battle is done here, New York City will stand firm for the rest of our nation. Our country was there for us and we will be there for our country."
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