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USNS Comfort to Begin Accepting Virus Patients as Crew Member Tests Positive

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy said the crew member's diagnosis will not alter the ship's plan to treat coronavirus patients

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President Donald Trump on Monday approved New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's request to use the USNS Comfort for COVID-19 patients — but hours later the U.S. Navy announced one of the ship's crew members tested positive for the coronavirus.

Cuomo said he called the president early Monday and asked to change plans for the 1,000-bed hospital ship, which docked in New York City's Pier 90 last week to relieve hospitals of non-coronavirus patients. The president agreed.

Late Monday, a spokesperson for the Navy confirmed to NBC News that a worker on board the ship was in isolation after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. The spokesperson said the diagnosis will not change the ship's new plan.

As of Tuesday morning, though, the ship had yet to take any COVID-19 patients. It wasn't clear when the first coronavirus patient would arrive. To date, the ship has treated 50 patients, the U.S. Navy said.

"There is no impact to Comfort’s mission, and this will not affect the ability for Comfort to receive patients," the spokesperson said of the crewmember's diagnosis. "The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board."

NBC New York's Katherine Creag reports.

With no foreseeable threat to the safety of those on board the ship, a Defense official told NBC News the Comfort is "ready immediately" to care for coronavirus patients.

The Comfort joined the Javits Center field hospital in accepting coronavirus patients to offload some of the burden on New York City hospitals. As Cuomo said previously, the virus patients are the ones flooding the hospital system.

"As it turns out, we don't have many non-COVID symptoms because when you close everything down, the silver lining was traffic accidents, crime went down," Cuomo told MSNBC's Katy Tur.

Coronavirus patients will first go to an area hospital and then be moved to the Comfort, according to the governor, because their trip to the hospital will be shorter and because the temporary hospitals "don't really have the intake assessment that you need."

New York is currently the nation's largest virus hotspot with 131,830 infected and nearly 5,000 dead, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Department of Defense released a timelapse of the USNS Comfort arriving in New York City.
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