USNS Comfort and Billie Jean King Tennis Center to be utilized as Corona outbreak strains hospital system. On March 31. 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, Queens will be converted into a temporary hospital facility. The facility will hold up to 350 patients and will treat COVID non ICU patients beginning on April 7th, 2020. The conversion of this facility is intended to relieve some of the needs and overcrowding at the Elmhurst Hospital.
On March 30, 2020, the USNS Comfort docked on the west side of Manhattan. The USNS Comfort has nearly 1,000 beds and twelve operation rooms and is intended to alleviate the City’s hospital system amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The ship, while intended to provide support, is not planned to treat individuals infected with COVID-19. The ship also contains laboratory facilities and oxygen producing plants. The USNS Comfort was previously stationed off Manhattan’s west side in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. At that time, the ship helped treat ground zero first responders.
The addition of the USNS Comfort and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to the hospital system comes in conjunction with the City and States’ other efforts to address overcrowding of hospitals. The Jacob Javits Center has been converted into a makeshift hospital with 2,500 beds. A 68-bed emergency field hospital was also established in Central Park’s East Meadow. The field hospital includes fourteen tents and will be operated by Samaritan’s Purse paid employees. Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian humanitarian Aid Organization.
At his March 30, 2020 press conference Governor Andrew Cuomo said the USNS Comfort “will be 1,000 beds for New York hospitals. It won’t treat COVID-19 patients but it will be a relief valve for hospitals that are struggling now, that are over capacity all across the City,” adding, “this is going to be welcome news and I want to thank all of the people that worked so hard to do this. This is a major enterprise.”
In his March 30, 2020 address welcoming the USNS Comfort, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “with this ship comes an extraordinary compliment of talented individuals in service to our nation, 1,200 medical staff and sailors here to help us. 750 beds will be put into play immediately to relieve pressure on a hospital system. Let me be clear that this is such a crucial part of the plan we are putting in place, but I want you to understand the sheer magnitude of the plan. We need to triple our hospital bed capacity by May. The number of beds we had at the beginning of March have to triple by May… The arrival of the Comfort—this is like adding a whole other hospital to New York City. It’s like, think of all the big hospitals in New York City- Bellevue and other famous hospitals we think of- it’s another one of them just floated right up to help us right now.”
FEMA Regional Administrator Thomas Von Essen stated, “FEMA’s working with the City, with the State to supply everything we possibly can, working with HHS to get as many medical people here as we can. People that help us with the forensics and the mortuary problems that we’re going to have, because we are going to have an awful lot of folks that aren’t going to make it.’ Von Essen added, “we are preparing for the worst case and that’s all we can do at this point. And we’re doing a good job, and we’re here for you.”
Rear Admiral John Mustin said “this ship represents all that is good about the American people, all that is generous, all that is ready, responsive and resolute…this great ship will support civil authorities by increasing medical capacity and collaboration for medical assistance, not treating COVID-19 patients, but by acting as a relief valve for other urgent needs, freeing New York’s hospitals and our precious medical professionals to focus on this pandemic.”
For New York City-specific COVID-19 updates, the City has established an information site with updates from all major administrative agencies. Agencies include the Department of Buildings, City Planning, Citywide Administrative Services, the Department of Finance and the Department of Transportation amongst others. You can find that page here.
By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)