The Truth About Floating Hospitals

After weeks of rising concern as coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S., the White House finally announced some major steps it was planning to take to "fight the war" on COVID-19. Among the weapons being deployed to help an embattled nation are two U.S. Navy hospital ships that will be dispatched, one to each coast. As President Trump described them (via Time): "They are massive ships. The big white ships with the red cross on the side. One is called Mercy and the other is called Comfort." He added the additional reassurance that "they are in tip-top shape." 

As to a timeline for the ships' readiness, Trump optimistically announced: "Those two ships are being prepared to go and they can be launched over the next week or so, depending on need."

That enough info for you? We now know the ships are big, and what their paint job looks like, and that they'll be ready "soon." For any details more specific than that, though, we'll have to turn to other sources.

How the floating hospitals will help with the coronavirus epidemic

The U.S. Naval Institute confirms that both the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are currently stocking up with medical equipment and taking on personnel in preparation for their imminent deployment. They point out, however, that the ships are not equipped, nor will they be employed, to treat coronavirus patients. The ships will, instead, be used to provide relief for local hospitals. As Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressed the ships' function, "one of the ways you could use... hospital ships... is to take the pressure off of civilian hospitals when it comes to trauma cases, to open up civilian hospital rooms for infectious diseases."

Of the two ships, CNN reports that the USNS Mercy is the one that is closest to being ready. That ship is expected to deploy to the Seattle area within the next five to 10 days, although the Department of Defense warns that the final destination is not set and will be dictated by current needs at the time it's ready to set sail. The USNS Comfort may not be ready to see service for several weeks yet, although when it is, Esper says this East Coast-based ship will be sent to New York.