Army Sends Mortuary Unit to NYC, Takes Over Javits Center for COVID-19 Patients

The Department of Defense has dispatched a mortuary affairs unit to New York City, to assist with the handling of human remains

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Thousands of lives have already been lost -- teachers, first responders, health care workers; the virus has ripped whole chunks from families and taken many friends. New York City, impaired by the density that makes it one of the world's most vibrant places, had 1,867 dead and more than 57,000 cases as of Friday.

New York City is the national epicenter of the crisis, but the alarming curve it is seeing will trend to other parts of the state -- and other parts of the country, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said.

Hospitals within New York City are overwhelmed by the sick and dying. News 4 previously reported the high volume of coronavirus-related deaths overwhelming hospital morgues and, in some cases, delaying the release of bodies.

In an effort to support hospital staff, the Department of Defense has dispatched a mortuary affairs unit to the city, to assist with the handling of human remains, New York City's medical examiner confirmed.

Cuomo says the surge of COVID-19 patients has overwhelmed hospitals, so much so that he announced the Javits Center field hospital, intended to be a 2,500-bed facility for non-virus patients, will now exclusively treat coronavirus patients. The U.S. Army will run it.

The Department of Defense will also now assist COVID-19 positive patients at facilities in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas.

The USNS Comfort, a floating hospital in the form of a Navy ship, arrived in New York City on Monday to relieve pressure on hospitals already overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. The ship and its crew, as of Friday, had only brought a couple dozen patients on board for care. The DoD said screening practices would change to expedite procedures and make it easier to transport non-COVID-19 patients onto the ship. Patients will no longer require a negative COVID-19 test to be admitted on the ship, but rather will be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire.

"Additionally, screening for care on the USNS Comfort will be modified and will now occur pier-side in an effort to reduce the backlog at some of the nearby New York hospitals," the Department of Defense said in a statement. "The screening effort for the USNS Comfort will no longer require a negative test, but each patient will still be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire."

The change in practice was implemented Friday, and would be coordinated with local officials, the DoD said.

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