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Trump, Esper Wish Bon Voyage To Hospital Ship Bound For New York City

President Trump speaks in front of the USNS Comfort in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday. The ship is departing for New York to assist hospitals responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is at right.
Patrick Semansky

The hospital ship USNS Comfort got underway from its pier in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday after a pomp-filled benediction by President Trump complete with a coterie of American flags and a military band.

The ship is scheduled to arrive in New York City on Monday to offer its roughly 1,000 hospital beds as surge capacity for the region hardest hit by the coronavirus disaster.

Patients without the disease can get treatment aboard the ship, the president said, freeing up treatment centers ashore for sufferers in the pandemic.

The Comfort is "a 70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the people of New York, a place I know very well, a place I love," Trump said. "We're here for you, we're fighting for you and we're with you all the way and we always will be."

The Comfort is scheduled to open to patients on Tuesday, Trump said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper accompanied Trump on his brief visit to Norfolk for the sendoff; the men remained at the end of a nearby pier watching as tugs eased the Comfort — a former oil tanker painted in a white livery with huge red crosses — out into the channel.

The ship is staffed by active and reserve Navy personnel and U.S. civil service mariners; it's operated by the Military Sealift Command, which supports the work of the Navy.

The Comfort's identical sibling, the USNS Mercy, sailed from its berth in San Diego and arrived on Friday in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.
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