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President Trump sends off USNS Comfort as it heads to New York to help with COVID-19 outbreak

The hospital ship will focus on trauma patients, freeing up beds in the city to deal with the coronavirus.

NORFOLK, Va. — The Norfolk-based Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort shipped out for New York on Saturday. President Donald Trump was present for the send-off and made remarks before the naval hospital ship departed from Naval Station Norfolk.

The Comfort will not focus on fighting the coronavirus. Instead, it will concentrate on other medical needs, freeing up bed space in hospitals in the city for dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

All this week, it has been a true race against the clock and the elements, as sailors and civilians hustled to get the USNS Comfort fully stocked and ready to sail.

RELATED: Trump says he will visit Norfolk to see USNS Comfort's sendoff

The 894 foot long, 63,000-ton vessel is about to become a fully capable hospital, with 1,000 hospital beds, 11 operating rooms, 80 intensive care beds and a radiology suite. 

Along with 63 civilian merchant mariners, the Comfort can accommodate up to 1,300 doctors, nurses, corpsmen and ship's crew, with medical personnel assigned from existing naval hospitals and medical facilities.

Last fall, the Comfort took part in a five-month humanitarian mission in Latin America called Continuing Promise. The ship's medical personnel provided medical, surgical, dental, and optometry services during 12 mission stops.

They saw over 70,000 patients and performed over 1,200 surgeries.

This time, they don't know how long they'll be gone, but the Navy promises it will look out for the sailors' loved ones while they are gone.

"We are going to take care of the families that are left behind here," said Capt. Gerard Woellkers. "One of the things about being in the military is it's one big family. We take care of the sailors and soldiers that go forward, but we also really key in on the family members left behind."

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia, 2nd District) is a former Naval officer. She said she's proud of the entire Comfort team.

"It's a great testament to our Navy medicine folks and the crew of the Comfort that they were able to get everything up and running quickly," she said.

RELATED: As COVID-19 cases rise, Navy prepare to send USNS Comfort to New York

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