Coronavirus: USNS Mercy, USNS Comfort deployed in COVID-19 response

The U.S. Navy is deploying its two hospital ships to locations on the East and West Coast to help with medical treatments during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the ships will not be used to treat patients suffering from the new coronavirus, Pentagon officials said, according to CNN.

The USNS Comfort, which has a homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, and the USNS Mercy, which has a homeport of San Diego, could report to New York City and the Seattle area, respectively, to treat other illnesses and free room in standard hospitals to treat coronavirus, CNN reported.

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Normally the ships are kept in a reduced operating status when not deployed. The ships are also staffed by Navy reservists and civilian volunteers, many of whom are part of the civilian medical work force, CNN reported.

Military officials said Wednesday that they will try to avoid calling on reservists to fill the staff needed. Instead, they will try to use active-duty military medical personnel, CNN reported.

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While the crews are preparing for their mission, it will take time. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CNN it will take weeks for the USNS Comfort to be fully ready, but the USNS Mercy could be deployed sooner.

The USNS Mercy has, according to its official website, 11 general-purpose operating suites, a 5,000-unit blood bank, 15 patient wards and room for 80 intensive care beds. It can produce more than 7,000 meals and 200,000 gallons of freshwater daily.

CNN reported both ships have about a 1,000-bed capacity.