NEW YORK CITY - As the USNS Comfort sailed into the New York Harbor March 30, the men and women aboard the hospital ship knew they were answering America's call for help by heading directly into one of the epicenters of a global pandemic.
In the weeks since, the original mission of the Comfort to provide relief to overwhelmed hospitals by treating non COVID-19 patients has changed, now tasked with treating those with and without the novel coronavirus.
Throughout the changes, the crew has come together to provide care to those in need.
"I think the progress so far has been really great. It’s a continual learning process. Every day we learn something new, every day we have a new challenge and with the great team of people we have we continue to evolve and flex and maintain our malleability so we can meet the changes that come every day," commented Commander Eric Parlette, a doctor in the medical operations center on the ship, in a Navy video.
Captain Patrick Amersbach, Commanding Officer for the Medical Treatment Facility aboard Comfort, says they've taken new safety measures to protect everyone given the admittance this week of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.
"We have environmental controls in place as well as following strictly as we possibly can CDC guidelines for social distancing and the use of PPE. We’ve moved approximately half of our staff off of the ship to decompress the berthing areas as well as the galley, further allowing that social distancing to occur," Captain Amersbach explained in another Navy video.
The Comfort's order to prepare to deploy came in March, a relatively fast turnaround for a ship that had just returned to Norfolk in mid-December from a five month long deployment supporting Operating Enduring Promise in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
“Building up basically a hospital from scratch, a floating hospital with new staff, so rapidly and then being able to move into a new city and establish those connections is just a great testament to the communication, the leadership, and just the resilience of the crew. It’s been amazing," Commander Parlette said.
While being on the front lines of a health crisis can be daunting, the Comfort's presence in New York is also highlighting the best of humanity.
"You see the true testament to humanity and selflessness. You see the greatness in people as well here and people coming together to give of themselves and just help millions of strangers," Commander Parlette commented.
The Comfort's sister ship, USNS Mercy, is also providing relief during the pandemic in Los Angeles.
Editor's Note: This is the final installment in a week-long series of reports from News 3 looking at what it took to prepare and now sustain the USNS Comfort. We'll continue to provide coverage of this local ship on the front lines in the weeks ahead. You can see previous reports here, here and here.