Navy's Mercy Hospital Ship Off L.A. Now Battling Serious COVID-19 Outbreak Among Crew

It was supposed to help relieve local California hospitals in the fight against coronavirus, but now it may have become a dangerous source of spreading the disease.

The emergency response ship USNS Mercy, docked since last month in the Port of Los Angeles, has been hit with a significant outbreak on board, with seven total crew members testing positive for COVID-19, the Navy said.

The USNS Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on March 27, 2020. Image via KTLA

All of the infected have now been removed from the ship and put into isolation in an especially worrisome situation given the ship is geared toward housing and caring for vulnerable non-coronavirus patients to take the strain off of area hospitals. 

People recently having contact with the newly positive crew members have also been put in isolation off the ship and are being monitored. In total the Mercy has 1,000 military personnel, assisted by a small civilian staff. 

The Navy says the rise in infections aboard the Mercy will not stop its mission to receive medical patients: “The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board,” a statement said. “This will not affect the ability for Mercy to receive patients at this time.”

It must be remembered that an entire nuclear aircraft carrier and its crew of nearly 5,000 was put out of commission off Guam last month amid a growing number of infections. The Theodore Roosevelt now has at least 585 sailors that tested COVID-19 positive, including the death of one sailor.

USNS Mercy previously departing from San Diego, via AP.

Concerning the Mercy, there's growing concern as to the source of infections which may trace back to major military hospitals in San Diego.

The SD Union-Tribute reports

The sailors came aboard after serving at various Navy medical installations, including Naval Medical Center San Diego. The hospital is one of two military medical facilities in San Diego County seeing service members who seek treatment and testing for COVID-19. The other is Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.

Because some medical staff rotated through the COVID-19 screening area at Naval Medical Center San Diego prior to deploying on the Mercy, one sailor told the Union-Tribune, there is concern on board that the crew brought the virus with them when they left San Diego.

The Navy has actually been the most severely impacted by the pandemic, as numbers showed that were made public prior to the Pentagon clamping down on public Covid-19 military infections reporting.

A similar floating hospital, the USNS comfort in New York, has also witnessed a handful of crew members catch COVID-19, with the Navy reporting at least three at the start of the week. The Comfort was originally intended to house non-coronavirus patients as NYC facilities dealt with rising cases, however, after local hospitals were overwhelmed the ship switched to taking on coronavirus patients.