President Donald Trump moved rapidly Monday to approve a request from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the Navy hospital ship Comfort available to treat patients with novel coronavirus -- a reversal of original plans to use the ship to treat those not diagnosed with the disease.
"It's now COVID, it's set for COVID," Trump said of the 1,000-bed Comfort at a late afternoon White House news conference.
Trump said he also had spoken to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who asked for COVID-19 patients from his state to be treated aboard the Comfort if necessary.
"Right now New York and New Jersey are hot zones and we're with them, we're with everybody," Trump said. "Hopefully, that will be helpful."
Earlier Monday, at his own news conference, Cuomo had said "We don't need the Comfort for non-COVID patients," and added that he would be speaking with Trump later to ask that the ship be opened to coronavirus-positive patients.
The main focus of the military's effort in New York City has been on the Javits Convention Center on Manhattan's West Side. Its mission has also been changed from treating non-COVID patients to accepting only COVID-positive patients.
Neither the ship nor the convention center is configured to treat large numbers of patients with the infectious disease, and original planning called for the spaces to be used for patients with other medical needs, to free up spots in New York's overwhelmed hospitals. But military personnel have struggled to fill the facilities with non-coronavirus cases.
When fully converted and staffed, the Javits Center will be able to treat up to 2,500 COVID-positive patients, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program.
At a Pentagon news conference, Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the surgeon for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the Comfort "will continue to accept trauma, emergency and urgent care patients, irrespective of their COVID status."
He said the Defense Department's preference was "to see Javits Center beds used by COVID patients, before moving them to the Comfort."
-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.