New York welcomes hospital ship as coronavirus accelerates

March 31 ------ A military hospital ship arrived in New York Monday as America’s coronavirus epicenter gears up for the peak of the pandemic, with emergency restrictions extended amid grim warnings the death toll will soar. The navy’s 1,000-bed USNS Comfort docked at a Manhattan pier as more US states enforced stay-at-home orders after President Donald Trump abandoned his Easter target for life returning to normal in the United States.

The 894 ft-long vessel — which also has space for a dozen operating rooms — was greeted by cheering crowds after departing Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday. Its arrival came as Virginia and Maryland became the latest states to restrict citizens’ movements, meaning almost three-quarters of Americans are now living, or about to live, under various phases of lockdown. 

On Sunday, Trump cancelled his plans to re-open much of the US by Easter — April 12 — and extended social distancing guidelines until the end of April after his top scientists confronted him with data on the rising coronavirus deaths. He said America’s death rate was likely to increase for two weeks, describing as “horrible” a prediction by senior scientist Anthony Fauci that COVID-19 could claim up to 200,000 lives.

Worst-affected New York is ramping up hospital capacity and taking delivery of desperately needed medical supplies as it races against time. “We have been playing catch up from day one,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters. “Don’t fight today’s fight. Plan for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks from now when you’re going to have the apex, and make sure that we’re in a position to win the battle,” he added.

The Comfort will care for New Yorkers requiring intensive care unrelated to the coronavirus, easing the burden on a hospital network overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 patients. “It will be good for morale,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. The US now has the highest number of confirmed cases in the world — more than 153,000 according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. The illness has claimed more than 2,800 lives in the country, including 1,218 in New York state.

Some 790 deaths have occurred in New York City, America’s financial capital and most populous city. It is spreading to other areas, notably neighboring New Jersey as well as Louisiana, Illinois and Florida. New York also opened a temporary emergency hospital in the Javits convention center with 2,900 beds on Monday. Four other sites have also been approved to house patients discharged from hospitals to make way for residents suffering from coronavirus. Flights run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the body tasked with responding to disasters, have also begun arriving at New York’s JFK Airport.