Coronavirus: USNS Mercy begins treating patients in Port of Los Angeles, easing strain on area hospitals

ByLeticia Juarez and staff KABC logo
Monday, March 30, 2020
USNS Mercy begins treating non-coronavirus patients in Port of LA
The U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy received its first patients Sunday after docking at the Port of Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy received its first patients Sunday after docking at the Port of Los Angeles, where it is intended to ease pressure on hospitals by taking in people with non-COVID-19 ailments.

Mayor Eric Garcetti says three non-coronavirus patients are already on board the 1,000 bed hospital ship which arrived Friday.

The Mercy's mission allows area hospitals to focus on caring for patients who are sick with the virus... and protects non-infected patients from getting sick.

The ship has 800 active duty doctors, nurses and medical staff members on board.

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Crowds flocked to the Port of Los Angeles Saturday to get a glimpse of the massive floating hospital.

Marcellus Figueroa and his wife, Virginia, drove in from the Inland Empire to see it. Figueroa is a former Navy hospital corpsman.

"I think the city of L.A. is going to benefit because the corpsmen are very well trained," he said. "So anybody that comes on this ship as a patient is going to feel like they are having hands-on care by their own loved ones."

Virginia Contreras said her and her husband, Marcellus, were trying to avoid other possible onlookers.

"We were excited and wanted to get going as early as we could, but we also wanted to try to avoid large crowds so that we minimize our exposure the best that we could," she said.

San Pedro resident Jan Olsen was among those who came out early to view the ship.

"The people that have to go to the hospital for accidents or the illnesses or having babies, hopefully they will bring them here instead," Olsen said.

But unlike the crowds who came out to see the Mercy's arrival, police were out on the boardwalk clearing out the public.

Still, the ship is providing a ray hope in the ongoing COVID-19 battle.

"It feels like its a symbol of hope... This is huge not only in size but.... some hope," Contreras said.

The USNS Mercy will be docked in the Port of Los Angeles until September or until it is no longer needed.

Testing among the state's 40 million residents has stepped up significantly after a slow start. Officials have warned the increase will reveal an expanding number of cases. A Sunday evening tally by Johns Hopkins University found more than 6,200 cases statewide and at least 130 deaths.

California was stocking up on ventilators and fixing outdated models in anticipation of shortages. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday the federal government sent 170 broken ventilators from a national stockpile. Engineers at Bloom Energy, a fuel cell maker in San Jose, were fixing them and sending them to hospitals.

Newsom issued a call for volunteers in a Monday afternoon press conference, urging medical school students, nursing students, retirees and other health care professionals to sign up to help California fight the coronavirus outbreak.

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Patients with COVID-19 experience mild to severe respiratory illnesses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.