March 28 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump praised those aboard Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort as it prepared to depart for New York City on Saturday to assist with coronavirus relief in a state that has become the epicenter for the outbreak in the United States.
"Nobody performs better when lives are on the line. These are incredible people," Trump said at a brief afternoon ceremony in Norfolk, Va., right before the ship set sail.
Trump said the Comfort is expected to arrive in New York on Monday -- two weeks ahead of schedule.
It had been undergoing maintenance that according to the president was supposed to take two weeks, but was expedited --or postponed -- and took four days to complete.
The USNS Comfort is one of two Navy hospital ships deployed this week in an attempt to provide relief to hospitals overwhelmed by the virus.
The other, the USNS Mercy, arrived in Los Angeles on Friday.
"Both ships have a tremendous history of humanitarian assistance and have provided care throughout the world," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said right before Trump spoke.
Neither vessel was deployed to treat those suffering from the virus, but instead to treat patients who still need urgent care for other reasons and can't be seen in hospitals that are fighting the virus with a shortage of beds.
New York City has reported 44,600 cases and some 500 deaths, making it the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
The president has floated the idea of imposing a quarantine affecting New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but did not make a firm pronouncement Saturday, instead saying a decision is coming "very shortly."
Trump's 200-mile trip to Norfolk marked the first time he's left the White House in more than a week, and drew criticism in light of his administration's recommendations against unnecessary travel.
Trump also gave thanks to healthcare workers across the country to and to Americans who have made sacrifices to help slow the virus' spread. He praised the relief bill passed this week which will provide financial assistance to Americans as well as loans to small business owners to keep their businesses afloat.
"The battle in which we're now engaged has inflicted many hardships on our nation and our families -- tremendous hardship on some families -- and much death. Much death. But through it all, the world has witnessed the unyielding resolve of our incredible American people," Trump said.
The president said numerous private companies have stepped up to manufacture ventilators and protective medical equipment as healthcare officials have said for weeks that they anticipate -- or are already facing -- shortages of equipment needed to treat patients and keep healthcare workers safe amid the pandemic.
He also said if the United States ends up with a surplus, "we can help other countries with ventilators."
"If we make too many, that's going to be okay, because I spoke with the Prime Minister of the U.K. yesterday, Boris Johnson," Trump said. "He tested, as you know, positive. And before I even was able to get a word out of him, he said -- I said, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'We need ventilators.' The U.K. needs ventilators. A lot of countries need ventilators badly."
Earlier this week the president suggested that governors asking for more ventilators, particularly New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, were exaggerating the number of ventilators they would need to treat patients sickened by the virus.