WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The Naval hospital ship USNS Comfort is set to leave New York City’s harbor after it floated for three weeks mostly empty of patients.
Projections about the spread of the coronavirus sent New York state scrambling to increase its hospital bed capacity by more than double its 53,000 limit.
The federal government was called in to convert spaces like the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan into overflow hospitals, but a month after shutdown efforts, that capacity hasn’t been stretched to its limits. Comfort and its 1,000 hospital beds sailed into New York late last month, but was under scrutiny for being sparsely used.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with President Donald Trump Tuesday and their discussion included Comfort. They agreed the ship can be sent elsewhere.
Of four overflow hospitals built in the state, only the Javits Center has taken patients so far, according to state officials. Although the overflow hospital construction was overseen by the federal government, it was coordinated with the New York Department of Health.
The Navy hospital ship, equipped with 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms, was intended to host non-coronavirus-related patients, which would free up resources at medical centers dealing with the outbreak.
Just outside of New York City, the Westchester County Center was ready to open this week as an overflow hospital but questions arose whether the 110 beds would be needed as the spread of the coronavirus shows signs of slowing.
“What we did was prepare for the worst and if the best comes to pass then we’ll consider ourselves fortunate,” said George Latimer, county executive of Westchester, which owns and runs the center.
Latimer said officials feared what was seen in China, Italy and Spain, where there were more people sick than there was hospital space.
“Then we’d have people on cots in gymnasiums, and unable to get the proper health care, not enough of the equipment needed,” Latimer said during a Wednesday briefing held on Zoom.
“I’d rather be criticized generically for preparing for the worst and it not happening then assuming it wasn’t going to happen and having the worst happen,” Latimer added.
Contributing: Joseph Spector, Jay Cannon, USA TODAY
Follow reporter Mark Lungariello on Twitter @marklungariello