When it pulled into Pier 90 in Manhattan, a crowd of people gathered and cheered. It was a feat to celebrate — in less than 15 days, the Navy got two hospital ships up and running to help with a hospital bed shortage.
However, the ship — even after it began taking COVID-19 patients in early April, remained largely unused — while nursing homes accepted COVID-19 positive residents under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order.
Now, Cuomo is facing questions into his coronavirus response, including why the ship remained empty as his nursing home order remained in effect.
“Everyone is forgetting that the U.S. Navy sent the USS Comfort to New York (at Trump’s direction), and instead of using it, @NYGovCuomo sent the elderly into nursing homes to their deaths. The Comfort left New York empty and unutilized,” Newsmax host John Cardillo tweeted.
Everyone is forgetting that the U.S. Navy sent the USS Comfort to New York (at Trump’s direction), and instead of using it, @NYGovCuomo sent the elderly into nursing homes to their deaths.
The Comfort left New York empty and unutilized.
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) February 15, 2021
Fox News’ Janice Dean tweeted: “We need to be asking for the emails/correspondence surrounding the origins of @NYGovCuomo’s deadly March 25th order. Why did he do it? Who advised him? Is there a money trail and why didn’t he use the Javits and the comfort ship? This will also provide crucial evidence.”
We need to be asking for the emails/correspondence surrounding the origins of @NYGovCuomo’s deadly March 25th order. Why did he do it? Who advised him? Is there a money trail and why didn’t he use the Javits and the comfort ship? This will also provide crucial evidence.
— Janice Dean (@JaniceDean) February 15, 2021
New York criminal defense lawyer Ali Najmi tweeted: “Did we ever get an answer on why Cuomo never utilized the naval hospital ship and Javits Center for sick COVID patients during the beginning of the pandemic? Couldn’t we have isolated sick patients in the ship and not in nursing homes?”
Did we ever get an answer on why Cuomo never utilized the naval hospital ship and Javits Center for sick COVID patients during the beginning of the pandemic? Couldn't we have isolated sick patients in the ship and not in nursing homes?
— Ali Najmi (@Ali_Najmi) February 18, 2021
President Trump on March 17 ordered the USNS Comfort to head to New York City, to arrive by the end of the month. Although it would not take COVID-19 patients, the fully-staffed 1,000-bed hospital ship would take non-COVID patients and alleviate the expected strain on civilian hospitals and health care workers.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the deployment. But eight days later, on March 25, he issued his now infamous advisory requiring nursing homes to accept residents from hospitals who had previously tested positive for COVID-19 if they were deemed medically stable.
The advisory said (emphasis added):
During this global health emergency, all [nursing homes] must comply with the expedited receipt of residents returning from hospitals to NHs. Residents are deemed appropriate for return to a NH upon a determination by the hospital physician or designee that the resident is medically stable for return.
No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.
Five days later, on March 30, the USNS Comfort pulled into port. It had military medical staff pulled from the active duty and reserves. U.S. House candidate and Navy reservist, Lynne Blankenbeker, cut her 2020 campaign short to deploy.
In the week after the Comfort’s arrival, as nursing homes were taking in residents with COVID-19, the hospital ship was largely unused, treating only about 40 patients, according to the Maritime Executive and CNBC.
On April 6, Cuomo said it would request that the Comfort take COVID-19 patients. He said non-COVID hospitalizations were down due to the lockdowns and that he would request that the Comfort take COVID-19 patients. Trump agreed, and the ship was converted to a 500-bed hospital ship for COVID-19 patients. After the new order, the Comfort was expected to reach 500 patients in several days.
However, by late April, the Comfort had still only treated a total of 179 people, according to a timeline by Business Insider, and Cuomo told Trump on April 21 that the Comfort was no longer needed. At the time, nursing homes were still taking residents who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was very good to have in case we had overflow, but I said we don’t really need the Comfort anymore,” Cuomo said after a meeting with Trump, according to the Business Insider. “It did give us comfort, but we don’t need it anymore, so if they need to deploy that somewhere else, they should take it.”
By April 27, the Comfort had treated 182 patients, USNI reported. The news media criticized Trump for even deploying the Comfort in the first place.
It would not be until May 10 that Cuomo would rescind his order.
The Associated Press reported that it was more than 9,000 recovering coronavirus patients who were released from hospitals into nursing homes under Cuomo’s order.
Ultimately, more than 15,000 residents of nursing home and living/adult care facilities died, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker admitted earlier this month, according to the New York Post.
At the time of the Comfort’s arrival, there were 790 COVID-19 deaths in New York City. By April 26, the number was 9,944, according to the Business Insider.
Now, Cuomo is under fire — and possible investigation — for trying to hide those numbers.
He has defended himself, arguing that nursing home staff spread the virus among residents — not his March 25 order.
But that has been little consolation to those with relatives at those facilities.
New York resident Ted Minissale lost both his mother and father-in-law in April, after they both contracted COVID-19 at the same nursing home, according to CNN.
“Every day you think of her and you miss so much, it’s just terrible,” he told the network of his mother, who would have been 94-years-old this month. Both became sick at the nursing home and later died in the hospital.
Minissale blamed Cuomo directly. “He (Cuomo) was saying that we can’t let (Covid-19) get into nursing homes, it’ll go through (residents) like wildfire,” Minissale said. “And at the same time when he’s telling you this, he’s putting out a mandate…which contradicts itself.”
“We asked for an apology and we didn’t get it (on Monday). We got defensiveness, we got deflection. We needed empathy from him. We needed respect from our governor,” Peter Arbeeny, told CNN, after he lost his father after he was infected with COVID-19 at a nursing home in late March.
The Trump administration also stood up a temporary 2,500-bed hospital at the Javits Center in Manhattan as additional overflow space for non-COVID-19 patients on March 30 — the same day the Comfort arrived in port.
Two days later, on April 2, Cuomo announced he had asked President Trump to allow it to take COVID-19 patients and that the request was granted, according to Bloomberg.
However, by its close on May 1, the center had only treated a little more than 1,000 patients over its entire duration, according to WABC. The highest number of patients there at one time was only about 500, according to the Navy Times. As many as 2,500 had been expected.
Breitbart News reached out to Cuomo’s office, but did not receive a response by deadline.