Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Thursday that the hospital ship Comfort, which has been undergoing maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia, could leave for New York on Friday or Saturday.
"Hopefully, she'll be there in New York by the early part of next week -- Monday, Tuesday," Modly told reporters from the Pentagon.
Governors on both coasts have pleaded with President Donald Trump to dispatch the Navy's hospital ships and other military medical assets to areas hard hit by COVID-19.
The Navy's West Coast-based hospital ship, the Mercy, is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles this week. It departed San Diego on Monday, but the crew needed to complete some training and certification before beginning a unique mission in their own country.
The Comfort was not scheduled to arrive in New York until April 3. Modly said the service worked to accelerate that plan and wrap up some maintenance projects on the ship.
If it doesn't have any issues in transit, he said, the Comfort should be in place about four days earlier than planned.
Navy leaders have stressed that its hospital ships won't be used to treat coronavirus patients. Instead, they'll be able to take patients from nearby hospitals who require surgery or other care.
The Mercy's crew hasn't been given an end date for their mission on the West Coast. Capt. Dan Cobian, the mission commander, said the crew is prepared to stay in LA "until the need is complete or until it doesn't make sense anymore."
That's likely to be the case on the Comfort as well.
New York has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the U.S., with more than 37,000 as of Thursday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said making sure the state's hospital system doesn't crash during the crisis is his No. 1 priority.
"The deployment of the USNS Comfort to New York is an extraordinary but necessary step to help ensure our state has the capacity to handle an influx of patients with COVID-19 and continue our efforts to contain the virus," Cuomo said.
The Comfort has 1,000 hospital beds and a dozen operating rooms onboard. It will be sent to New York harbor.