The United States Navy maintains two hospital ships, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy. Both US Navy hospital ships are deploying in response to COVID-19, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.

The featured photo for this article shows USNS Mercy departing San Diego for deployment as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients, to isolate them and prevent coronavirus infection. The ship will dock at Los Angeles Harbor.

Because Comfort was at Norfolk being refitted after a deployment to the Caribbean, no date has been set for its expected deployment in a similar capacity to New York City.

Both hospital ships are fully crewed and more than capable of taking on this and similar tasks.

Originally an oil tanker, Mercy was converted to its current use by its original manufacturer as the third hospital ship to bear the name.

Defense Department release on deployment (March 23, 2020)

In a matter of days, the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy will sail from San Diego and dock in the port of Los Angeles to help lift the burden from local medical treatment facilities that need to focus their resources on patients affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a Navy official said today.

Navy Rear Adm. Timothy H. Weber, commander of the Naval Medical Corps Pacific and director of the Medical Service Corps, spoke with reporters at the Pentagon by telephone to update them on the Mercy’s plans. He was joined by Navy Capt. (Dr.) John R. Rotruck, the ship’s commanding officer.

More than 800 medical professionals, assembled over the last few days, will embark on the Mercy, the admiral said. The doctors, nurses, corpsmen, other medical professionals and mariners will help communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

The Mercy normally handles combat casualty care, and its crew will not treat patients with the coronavirus, the admiral said. The ship and its staff will offer a broad range of medical and surgical support, with the exceptions of obstetrics and pediatrics.

Nearly 60 of the medical staff members are military reservists, Weber said. “We are honored to answer the call in a time of need,” he added.

“Today is a big day for the Mercy, Navy medicine and our national response to the coronavirus,” Rotruck said. He noted that Los Angeles has seen some of the greatest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to date.

“We will be ready on arrival to support [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and state and local efforts to protect the health of the American people in this whole-of-government approach directed by the president of the United States,” the captain said.

“We are not treating COVID-19 patients, and we are taking proactive measures to ensure anyone coming aboard is properly screened,” Rotruck said. The Mercy has infectious disease prevention measures that will be followed just as any hospital ashore would, he added.

“We will be bringing relief to where we are needed most,” the captain said. The Navy’s hospital ships are uniquely outfitted, for humanitarian and disaster relief, and those serving on the ships are highly skilled and highly trained, he added.