A Navy hospital ship deployed to New York City to help fight the coronavirus outbreak is no longer needed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, expressing confidence that stresses on the hospital system are easing.
Cuomo said after meeting with President Donald Trump that the USNS Comfort was helpful, but could now be sent elsewhere after being docked for weeks off of Manhattan.
At an evening press conference, Cuomo said having the ship had been worthwhile, even as the need for it didn’t reach the levels that had been projected.
“I believe Comfort not only brought comfort but also saved lives,” Cuomo said.
Trump said at his Tuesday briefing that he asked Cuomo if “we could bring the Comfort back to its base in Virginia so that we could have it in other locations.” Trump said they would bring the ship back soon.
The Navy ship arrived March 30 as state and city officials scrambled to add hospital beds to prepare for a potentially catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases.
But hospitalization levels appeared to have peaked recently amid strict stay-at home restrictions. Total statewide hospitalizations have slowly dropped to about 16,000, more than 2,000 below a week ago.
The Comfort has treated 179 patients, with 56 on board Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo said hospitals in parts of upstate New York will be able to conduct outpatient elective surgeries again and he pledged to consider regional differences when re-opening the state’s outbreak-stalled economy.
Hospitals in selected counties can resume elective outpatient treatments April 28 if a capacity benchmark is met and there have been fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county over the past 10 days.
“We’re going to allow it in those hospitals and counties in the state that do not have a COVID issue or we wouldn’t need their beds in case of a surge,” Cuomo said at a briefing in Buffalo.
The hospital restrictions will remain in effect in hard-hit New York City, Long Island and suburban Westchester and Rockland counties, as well as in 10 upstate counties. Buffalo and Albany are in counties where the restrictions remain.
In contrast to crowded New York City hospitals, some serving rural areas of the state have furloughed staff recently as revenue from elective procedures dried up.
In Buffalo, Catholic Health is losing about $30 million a month in revenue since drastically reducing elective procedures at its five western New York hospitals, President and Chief Executive Mark Sullivan said.
“It’s a huge burden on the health system but we can’t turn away from public safety and making sure that the plan going forward is appropriate,” Sullivan said by phone. Only one of the system’s hospitals, Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Niagara County, is outside an exclusion zone.
Leslie Paul Luke, president and CEO of Syracuse-based St. Joseph’s Health, said he was confident they can safely resume orthopedic, bariatric, vascular and other procedures.
As he plans for a wider economic re-opening, Cuomo said it was important to note that the outbreak hit regions of the state at different times and at different rates. Rural stretches of northern New York are facing “a totally different situation” than densely settled New York City.
“We operate as one state, but we also have to understand variations and you do want to get this economy opened as soon as possible,” he said. “And if the situation is radically different in one part of state than another part of the state, then take that into consideration.”