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USNS Mercy departs from Naval Station San Diego to help fight coronavirus

The ship will also serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals.
Credit: KFMB

SAN DIEGO — The hospital ship USNS Mercy departed from Naval Station San Diego on Monday afternoon to help fight the spread of COVID-19. 

“People are the Navy medicine’s greatest strength,” said Commander Tim Weber. 

More than 800 medical professionals are off to help hospitals, according to Weber. 

The USNS Mercy is “a relief valve” for local hospitals. They goal is not to help COVID-19 patients, but rather to lighten the load of hospitals so those hospitals can treat COVID-19 patients. 

The goal is to “bring relief where needed most," said Navy Captain John Rotruck

“This is exactly what Navy medicine trains to do," added Rotruck.

The ship will also serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a "full spectrum of medical care to include critical and urgent care for adults" with a "very broad range of medical and surgical issues.” For example, someone may be treated on board if they have pneumonia or a broken leg. 

“This is not a traditional mission,” said Weber.

According to Brian O'Rourke, a spokesperson for the Navy, this setup will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients.

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Civil service mariners will operate and navigate the ship, load and off-load mission cargo, assist with repairs to mission equipment and provide essential services to keep the MTF up and running, O'Rourke said.


There are about 1,000 beds on board, according to Rotruck. The Navy plans to staff nine of the 12 operating rooms for the time being. All patients are screen for COVID-19 before coming on board. 

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View all coverage of coronavirus / COVID-19 

NEWS 8 joined forces with The San Diego Foundation to raise IMMEDIATE, EMERGENCY FUNDS for our most vulnerable neighbors in need. Here is how you can help. 

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing. 

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. 

  • Stay home when you are sick. 

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. 

The CDC also says facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of the virus. If you’re not sick, you do not have to wear a facemask. 

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