Why the Navy's Hospital Ship Mercy Is Going to LA Instead of Hard-Hit Washington

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departs Naval Base San Diego
Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departs Naval Base San Diego in support of Pacific Partnership 2018 (PP18), Feb. 23, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Kelsey L. Adams)

The Navy's West Coast hospital ship will leave San Diego on Monday and head 125 miles up the coast to Los Angeles, where it will help relieve demands on local hospitals during the coronavirus crisis.

It's one of two 1,000-bed Navy hospital ships that will deploy to a U.S. city as the country braces for medical facilities to be taxed by rising numbers of critical COVID-19 patients. And even though Washington state has seen the highest number of West Coast coronavirus cases, officials say California is going to need the hospital ship Mercy more in coming days and weeks.

"Even though there are more cases right now in Washington, the projected needs for beds in California is five times more than that of Washington," Pete Gaynor, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's administrator, said Sunday.

Washington was the first state in the U.S. to report a coronavirus case in January. Since then, the state has been hit hard by the virus, reporting nearly 2,000 cases and 95 deaths due to the fast-spreading illness.

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Now, analysis is showing the demand for medical care will be higher in California, Gaynor said.

The Mercy will leave Naval Base San Diego on Monday with more than 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff, according to a news release from 3rd Fleet. Once in LA, it will treat non-coronavirus patients.

"This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their intensive-care units and ventilators for those patients," the release states.

The Navy's East Coast hospital ship, the Comfort, will go to New York. But that isn't expected to happen for weeks as the ship undergoes maintenance in Virginia.

New York has nearly 17,000 coronavirus cases, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pleading for the Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction on hospitals there as experts warn the state's system will become overwhelmed.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last weekend asked President Donald Trump to stage the Mercy in the port of Los Angeles through Sept. 1.

"Our state and health care delivery system are significantly impacted by the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases," he wrote in a March 18 letter to Trump. "... We project that roughly 56 percent of our population -- 25.5 million people -- will be infected with the virus over an eight-week period."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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