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Hospital ship USNS Mercy heads to Los Angeles in COVID-19 response

Cargo is loaded aboard the USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, prior to its travel from San Diego to Los Angeles on Monday to alleviate pressure on local hospitals dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by MCS2 Jessica Paulauskas/U.S. Navy
Cargo is loaded aboard the USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, prior to its travel from San Diego to Los Angeles on Monday to alleviate pressure on local hospitals dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by MCS2 Jessica Paulauskas/U.S. Navy

March 23 (UPI) -- The hospital ship USNS Mercy will leave its home port of San Diego for Los Angeles on Monday, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said.

The ship, with 1,000 beds, is built to treat those wounded by war and trauma, and will not treat Southern California's COVID-19 cases. Its visit, expected to last one week, is instead meant to alleviate pressure on local hospitals as they deal with the pandemic.

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"The ship will 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 critical and urgent care for adults," Gaynor said on Sunday. "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 governors of both California and Washington requested hospital aid in the form of the USNS Mercy, but Gaynor said the projected need was five times greater in the Los Angeles area than in the Seattle area.

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The ship will depart Naval Base San Diego with over 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff from the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and at least 70 civilian support staff. It serves as a floating hospital -- referred to as a medical treatment facility, or MFT, with civil service mariners operating the ship, loading and unloading cargo and providing essential services.

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The USNS Mercy, and its sister ship USNS Comfort, support expeditionary warfare as their prime mission, and secondarily are involved in disaster relief and humanitarian operations.

The USNS Mercy is a converted Navy supertanker, and was delivered to the Navy's Military Medical Command in 1986.

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The USNS Comfort, stationed at Naval Station Newport News, Va., is preparing to travel to New York City for a similar mission, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week the height of the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to occur in about 45 days.

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