April 2 (UPI) -- The Navy hospital ships deployed in March to help hospital systems cope with an expected influx in patients due to the novel coronavirus have treated fewer than 20 patients combined since they began treating patients this week, officials said Thursday.
The USNS Mercy has treated a total of 15 patients since it began treating patients in Los Angeles Sunday, according to Capt. John Rotruck, the Mercy's commanding officer at a Thursday news conference.
Five of the patients treated on the Mercy have already been discharged, so there are 10 patients on the ship currently, according to Rotruck.
Both ships are outfitted with 1,000 beds.
Neither was deployed to treat patients infected with COVID-19. Instead they are there to act as what Rotruck called "a relief valve" for local hospitals, treating individuals who need hospitalization for other, more routine reasons. This is meant to allow hospitals in their respective cities to focus on caring for patients suffering from the virus.
So far, Rotruck said the Mercy's staff has seen "pretty much the gamut" of injuries and health problems of the sort that would be treated in a community hospital.
"I think, hopefully, understanding the intent of the DoD's senior leadership, that they really wanted to get the capability and capacity in place early -- before the hospitals and the local areas were already overwhelmed," said Capt. John Rotruck, the commanding officer of USNS Mercy.
That way, Rotruck said, the ships would be able to "establish relationships and ensure the processes were sound to get patients to the ships, so that when the capacity demand really increases, we'll be ready."
Neither ship is accepting walk-in patients, but instead patients are referred by local hospitals -- and they are screened by those hospitals for COVID-19 before they are sent to the ships, Rotruck said.
Both captains also said they would alter their missions and begin accepting COVID-19 patients if directed by the federal government to do so.