USNS Comfort Hospital Ship arrives in NYC : Welcomed by Mayor Bill de Blasio at Pier 90
On March 30, 2020 the USNS Comfort Hospital Ship arrived at Pier 90 on the west side of Manhattan after making its way through New York Harbor. The 70,000 ton Navy vessel departed from the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on Saturday, March 28 and headed up to New York for the sake of aiding in the fight against the Coronavirus Pandemic.
This all comes as a response to the city’s anticipation a peak point wherein its abilities in as far as supplies, staff and ICU beds would not be able to meet the expected needs of those seriously affected by the virus.
With its 1,000 beds and over 1,100 medical personnel, the floating hospital would serve as a backup to the city’s emergency services for those patients not directly affected by the Coronavirus.
It’s stated that the ship would serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care to include general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults. 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 Comfort would begin receiving patients 24 hours after its arrival in NYC. All patient transfers will be coordinated with local hospitals, thus ensuring a consistent handoff of care between medical providers. Patients will not be accepted on a walk-on basis, and should not come to the pier with any expectation that they can receive care.
The USNS Comfort was last here in NYC in the days following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Upon its arrival NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio were both at Pier 90 today to welcome the ship. The governor had a press briefing and the mayor conducted a press conference for which you’ll find related videos and photos on this page.
Also on hand, at the event, was Rear Admiral John Mustin in a moment and the Regional Administrator for FEMA, Tom Von Essen.
Following the videos below would be the full transcript of today’s Press Conference as provided by the Office of the Mayor of New York.
The USNS Coming in to Pier 90 with the help of Tugboats
Regional Administrator Thomas Von Essen, FEMA
USNS Comfort at Pier 90 in NYC
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
Corresponding Video of Mayor de Blasio’s Press Conference
Mayor Bill de Blasio: So, this morning we all watched something absolutely extraordinary, absolutely inspiring as the USNS Comfort entered New York Harbor, coming here to as save the lives of New Yorkers in our hour of need. We’ve all been through a lot these last few weeks and we needed this boost, we needed this hope that’s being created by our brothers and sisters in the US Navy and the Marine Corps, everyone who is here to help us at this crucial moment. This ship arriving is not just an example of help arriving in a physical form. It’s not just about the beds and the doctors and the equipment, it’s also about hope, it’s also about boosting the morale of New Yorkers who are going through so much. It’s about saying to our heroes in those hospitals that help has come. That relief is on the way. I can’t tell you how much this means, it is so much more than even we realize at this moment that our nation has heard our plea for help here in New York City and there could not be a better example of all of America pulling for New York City than the arrival of the USNS Comfort, some major, major moment in this long battle that we will be fighting against the coronavirus.
I think there’ve been times in recent days where a lot of New Yorkers have felt alone. A lot of New Yorkers have felt a sense of not being sure of what’s coming next, not being sure of help would come. Well, I want to say to all New Yorkers, we have evidence here you are not alone. We are not alone. Our nation is helping us in our hour of need. There’s a lot of people to thank and you’re going to hear from two of our real heroes here from the federal government who are doing so much for us. You’re going to hear from Rear Admiral John Mustin in a moment and the Regional Administrator for FEMA, Tom Von Essen, who’s well known to all of us in New York City. But I want to thank everyone who was a part of this many, many people work together. And look, we’ve got to remember, this is a wartime atmosphere, we all have to pull together. We may have differences in peacetime, but to the maximum extent possible, we all have to be as one in wartime. I know our colleagues in the military understand that. We all need to understand that now. So, I do want to thank President Trump. I want to thank Secretary Esper. I want to thank Chairman Millie, everyone at the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Coast Guard, all the people at FEMA, so many people at the federal government who came together to make this happen and so much more for New York City. I want to thank Governor Cuomo, and everyone in the State government, who has joined us in pushing from day one for this kind of support. I want to thank from our administration, everyone to work to get the dredging done, working with the military. I want everyone to understand – and Admiral Mustin will affirm this – this ship is here ahead of schedule because the amazing work of the military, it’s here ahead of schedule because the dredging was done faster than anyone knew it could be done to allow this ship to dock. I want to thank everyone at the City Economic Development Corporation, our Emergency Management Team, and also, of course, the State Department, Environmental Conservation, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Everyone pulled together. This was supposed to take two weeks to make it possible for this ship to dock. They did it in eight days and that means help has arrived quicker and we’re going to be able to do the lifesaving work right now. I want to also thank from the military, one of the leaders who did the work to make this moment possible – Marine Corps Colonel Brian [inaudible] who’s with us. Thank you, Colonel. And from my team, Deputy Mayor Raul Perea-Henze, for Health and Human Services, and Commissioner James Hendon, Department of Veteran Services. Colonel James Hendon, thank you.
So, with this ship comes an extraordinary compliment of talented individuals in service to our nation, 1,200 medical staff and sailors here to help us all. 750 beds will be put into play immediately to relieve the pressure on a hospital system. Let me be clear that this is such a crucial part of the plan we are putting in place, but I want you to understand the sheer magnitude of the plan. We need to triple our hospital bed capacity in New York City by May. The number of beds we had at the beginning of March have to triple by May – it’s a daunting task, but we got a big, big boost. The arrival of the Comfort – this is like adding a whole other hospital to New York City. It’s like, think of all the big hospitals in New York City – Bellevue and all the other famous hospitals we think of – it’s like another one of them just floated right up to help us right now.
And I hope New Yorkers know that this is something we’ve been fighting for, and we’re going to be fighting for a lot more help, because there’s just the beginning. My job is always to tell you the truth and I’ll tell you when we get the help we need and I’ll tell you when we need more help. I’ll tell you when we’re getting into the thick of the battle and I’ll tell you when we’re coming out of the battle. Right now, the toughest weeks are still ahead, but we are grateful. We are grateful for every doctor, for every nurse, for every ventilator, for the supplies, for the beds, for everything that’s come from the Comfort and everything that has come from all over the country. I have to tell you, it’s the federal governments, it’s the State government, of course, but it’s also the companies that come forward offering help people we’ve never met, individuals who come forward with supplies, health care workers who have volunteered, it’s the United Nations, which came up with a quarter-million surgical masks and got them to us right away. We’re seeing amazing offers of help and people are moving fast to get help to New York City and we appreciate it. We need it.
So, let’s look forward. Let’s pray. There’s going to be a lot more days like this when people can see our nation stand by us. And then, I affirmed to you, when the battle is done here, New York City will stand firm for the rest of our nation. New York City will be the first to donate to the rest of our nation. We will send the ventilators, the supplies. We will ask our doctors and nurses to go to the front, wherever it is in this nation, because our country was there for us and we will be there for our country.
A few words in Spanish –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, I want to turn to a guy who’s been a hero before for this city and we need him to be a hero again. And I know he is already rising to the occasion. He helped lead New York City through our darkest hour on 9/11. He was then our Fire Commissioner and he did an outstanding job under the most adverse circumstances our Fire Department had ever known. When he became the Regional Administrator for FEMA, he could never have imagined this day, nor could any of us. But I said to Tom earlier, thank God he is where he is now. I think God had a plan for him because his City needs him again. My great honor to introduce the Regional Administrator for FEMA, Tom Von Essen
Regional Administrator Thomas Von Essen, FEMA: Thank you, Mayor. Yeah, it really seems it’s gotten real personal for me this morning. About two weeks ago, we moved our regional response recovery coordination team down to a Naval base in rural New Jersey where we have an operation center and we’re able to get people off public transportation. We have all our equipment down there set up there, it’s really good set up. It was built during Sandy, had a Naval base, so we have about 30-35 people working there every day, late, late into the night working to try and accommodate everybody we can in New York City, New York State, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin islands – that’s what region two is at FEMA. So, I had been down there the last two weeks and I came back for this today, and I was driving on East River Drive and I looked across by 14th Street and I had a flashback to the morning I was driving in and they told me a small plane had crashed into the Trade Center and life changed at that time. And I remember having the Comfort come then, you know, a couple of – I don’t remember when, a couple of weeks later or whatever. And we didn’t need it for what we needed for today. We didn’t need it for people who needed hospital care, it wasn’t necessary, but we brought it in. We needed it for crisis counseling for a lot of fire chiefs and police officers who were really, really overcome with the grief and at that that they faced with their friends and people that they worked with and we needed to house federal workers and give them food and everything. And we got it out of here and we started putting them in hotel rooms, but I’ll never forget the feeling, I talked about it this morning the names of perfect, the comfort and the mercy and I was told they were here in 1918 for the pandemic we had then not these particular ships, but their predecessors. So, the federal government has always been here, the Army, the Navy, the Marines, that they’ve always been here for us when we needed them and they here again for you now and for me.
To the flashbacks, I get knowing that the City is under such stress now, it’s real personal for me. The Fire Department, I spent 30 years in it. So, when September 11th happened, it was personal. It was friends, it was leaders, people had worked with, everybody was affected by September 11th. And that’s what’s happening now – everybody you know is affected by the coronavirus in one way or another. A friend, a relative, a loved one that you can’t go and see because there are in quarantine or you don’t want to— and I stopped to see a 100-year-old lady last week and just, you know, talk to her from six feet away. And I know everybody’s doing that and it’s important, but this, this is a big-time visible sign of what our government is like when we put it into action. And the Mayor said it and it’s really – I’m really proud to be part of it now, I know how tough the people of this city are and I’ve seen us take on some seemingly— insurmountable challenges. Once again, we need to do it once again we need to be together six feet apart. I saw the Mayor taking pictures with some of the military folks I never noticed it before, taking a picture with someone that was two or three feet away. It’s weird. It’s really strange what we’re all going through, but it’s necessary and it is going to make a difference. The more we separate, the more everybody stays away, the better off we’ll be in, the faster we’ll get out of this. But thank goodness now help has arrived. It’s going to make a big difference. FEMA’s working with the City, with the State to supply everything we possibly can, working with HHS to get as many medical people here as we can. People that help us with the forensics and the mortuary problems that we’re going have, because we are going to have an awful lot of folks that aren’t going to make it.
But we’re doing the best we can. And it’s an honor to be back in a middle of such a tough, tough battle that we have in front of us. But September 11th, it seemed like every day we were fixing stuff and it was getting slightly better. The grief, of course, was enormous, but the operation seemed to get slightly better every day with this. It seems to be we’re not there yet, it’s not going to get better, it might not get better for us here in the City for weeks, maybe a month, I hope not, I don’t know. I listened to Dr. Fauci on here about models and worst-case scenario and best-case scenarios. We just don’t know. So, we are preparing for the worst case and that’s all we can do at this point. And we’re doing a good job, and we’re here for you.
Mayor: Thank you so much, Tom. Now, such an honor to bring to you the military leader of this effort he comes a family long connected to the US Navy. He is someone we’re thinking about right now as one of our saviors, one of the people led the forces who came to help us in our hour of need, but his day job is Vice Commander of US fleet forces. So, he has a big, big job and a lot to think about. But, right now, his mind, his heart, his soul is focused on New York City. And I’m proud to say he is also a resident of Manhattan and has a family here and understands what we are all going through. And I just want to express on behalf of 8.6 million New Yorkers, my gratitude for your leadership and for all the men and women who serve under your command, an honor to present to you Rear Admiral John Mustin.
Rear Admiral John Mustin: Mr. Mayor, Mr. Administrator, Commissioner, thank you for being here today to welcome this great ship to the officers, the crew, the medical professionals of USS Comfort. Thank you for the vital mission that you’ve undertaken. I’d also like to recognize and thank the many, many contributors who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make this day possible. Each of those who helped to fit out and prepare this ship in record time from the maintenance community to the dock workers, to the ships company, to the doctors, to the dredgers. Thank you, all of you for the agility and professionalism that you have all shown over the past few weeks. That focused collective effort will save American lives. Today, I also want to recognize that not all of our nation’s heroes wear military uniforms, especially today we acknowledge that many wear scrubs. Let us not forget, nor fail to recognize that the doctors and nurses across America, those who are treating patients in these unprecedented times, they are all heroes and like those heroes, the unmistakable Whitehall and Red Cross at this great ship had been a welcome site around the world standing at the forefront of our humanitarian missions overseas.
This ship represents all that is good about the American people, all that is generous, all that is ready, responsive and resolute. Like her sister ship the USNS Mercy was recently [inaudible] and is already serving patients in Los Angeles, this great ship will support civil authorities by increasing medical capacity and collaboration for medical assistance, not treating COVID-19 patients, but by acting as a relief valve for other urgent needs, freeing New York’s hospitals and our precious medical professionals to focus on this pandemic. So, now this great ship will serve and support our fellow Americans in this time of need, providing critical search hospital capacity to America’s largest City. As a resident, a New Yorker myself, I can attest to the invincible spirit of New York from the ships that she built in World War II to are unflappable determination following 9/11 and hurricane Sandy. I have great confidence that New York will weather today’s storm as well.
This time with the support of another great American community; the naval families on-board and supporting the crew of the USNS Comfort. Words are incapable of expressing the depth of my gratitude for those on this mission and for the families that they leave behind. The men and women on-board Comfort are mothers, they’re fathers, they’re sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers and while our lives may look drastically different today than they did even a month ago, the circumstances for these men and women are no exception. They left their families during this uncertain time in our nation’s history, knowing that they can make a difference. That is what the US Navy does and this is an example of Americans helping their fellow men. I know that for our military families, social distancing is not a new concept, but rather a frequent reality and I remain grateful for all that each of them do for our nation and for our communities every single day.
As you’ve heard from the Administrator, the last time this great hospital ship – all 70,000 tons of her – was in New York, was in the wake of 9/11 where she served as a respite and comfort for first responders working around the clock. Today, like then, we bring a message to all New Yorkers – now, your Navy is returned and we are with you committed in this fight. Mr. Mayor, every sailor, every Marine, and every civilian on this mission stands proudly, stands ready to serve the people of New York City. We have not yet begun to fight and we will not give up this ship.
Mayor: Beautifully said, Admiral. And thank you so much. All right, we’re going to take questions now from the media, just please project your voices so I can hear you well. Go ahead. Oh, we have microphones, even better.