'70,000-ton message of hope': Trump sees off Navy hospital ship as it heads for NYC

Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump visited Norfolk, Va. on Saturday to see off the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship that is headed to New York to provide extra space and support to medical workers in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

“In a few moments the crew of the navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is really something, will embark for New York City where they will join the ranks of tens of thousands of amazing doctors, nurses and medical professionals who are battling to save American lives," Trump said, speaking in front of the ship.

“This great ship behind me is a 70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the incredible people of New York. A place I know very well, a place I love," Trump continued.

The USNS Comfort will be used to treat patients who are not infected with COVID-19 in order to free up much-needed hospital space for infected patients in New York City.

"People will be coming out of hospitals who don't have the virus and they'll be on the ship where they have great operating rooms and great facilities," Trump said. "By serving these emergency patients away from the hospitals, beds will be opened up all over the city for those who are infected."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio have warned that the city’s hospitals will soon reach capacity and efforts have already been made to build makeshift hospitals at locations such as the Jacob Javits Center, a large convention hall on the west side of Manhattan.

The ship is expected to dock nearby at Pier 90 in Manhattan on Monday and will begin seeing patients on Tuesday. The Comfort had been undergoing maintenance in Norfolk, which The Pentagon initially said would take weeks to complete.

"It was supposed to be here for four weeks and they did it in four days," Trump said.

Trump’s visit on Saturday marks his first time leaving Washington in roughly two weeks, raising some questions if the trip was going against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations to limit travel and to social distance.

“It doesn't mean I'm going to be hugging people and it doesn't mean that I'm going to be shaking people's hands and everything,” Trump told reporters on Friday, justifying his visit. “But I think it sends a signal when the president is able to go there and say thank you. So, you know, we'll be careful.”

The Comfort is one of two Navy ships that have been dispatched to help fight the coronavirus. The USNS Mercy arrived in the port of Los Angeles on Friday and will also see non-coronavirus patients.

Both ships are expected to hold around 1,000 hospital beds and will have the capacity to conduct general surgeries and critical care. They are nearly three football fields long and 10 stories high.