On dispatching hospital ships, Trump left out relevant details

Trump said he's "sending" two hospital ships to New York. The trouble is, it's "anybody's guess" when those ships will actually arrive.
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

The New York Times reported yesterday on a variety of government resources, which might make a difference in the response to the coronavirus crisis, which have gone untapped. The article specifically noted, "Hospital ships are at port."

Soon after, Donald Trump made an announcement along these lines, which seemed encouraging.

"We're sending, upon request, the two hospital ships; they're being prepared right now. They're massive ships. They're the big white ships with the red cross on the sides. One is called the Mercy and the other is called the Comfort. And they are in tip-top shape. They soon will be. They're getting ready to come up to New York. I spoke with [New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo] about it. He's excited about it."

What the president did not say is when the ships would arrive at their destination. NBC News reported yesterday 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.

A Navy statement added, "Both ships are currently working to complete scheduled maintenance cycles and identify necessary medical staffing to deploy as soon as possible."

Or put another way, Trump's rhetoric came with some fine print we couldn't see.

As for the resources themselves, the Times reported that the Comfort and Mercy, each of which has a 1,000-bed capacity, are "designed for trauma wounds, not viruses." With that in mind, "Defense Department officials said that one possibility for the Comfort would be to station in New York Harbor and absorb non-coronavirus patients in New York, which could free up hospital beds in Manhattan to attend to infectious cases."