Large Crowds Ignore Social Distancing Guidelines to Watch Navy Hospital Ship Dock in NYC Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Large crowds of people gathered despite social distancing guidelines to greet the USNS Comfort Navy ship as it arrived in New York City on Monday morning to help hospitals that are overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

At around 10 a.m. ET, the USNS Comfort floating hospital docked in New York. The ship, which has 1,000 beds and 12 operation rooms, is expected to be open to patients within 24 hours of arrival. It will not be treating those who have tested positive for COVID-19 but will help alleviate pressure from the city's hospitals that are seeing a rapid increase in cases of the novel virus.

Citizens in New York began posting images showing crowds ignoring the city's social distancing measures to watch the USNS Comfort's arrival. "No social distancing as crowd clusters for a shot of #USNSComfort #nbc4ny," NBC News New York reporter Andrew Siff tweeted.

"This is incredibly counterproductive. People gathered to watch the US Navy hospital ship dock in New York City. Stay home. Practice social distancing," CNN Business editor Alexis Benveniste tweeted.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday said that residents could be fined up to $500 if they are caught breaking social distancing measures. The state has banned gatherings of any size, as well as mandated that people remain at least six feet away from each other to fight the spread of the novel virus.

Police officers have been authorized to break up gatherings, with fines being the last resort if people refuse to disperse. A NYPD spokesperson told Newsweek on Monday afternoon that the department "had a presence at the Pier throughout the day and will continue to disperse any groups that congregate."

Newsweek reached out to de Blasio's office for comment.

Global coronavirus cases exceeded 780,000 cases on Monday afternoon, with more than 37,000 deaths and 164,000 recoveries worldwide.

The New York state death toll on Sunday evening exceeded 960, according to figures released by the city and state.

In a news briefing on Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that the death toll had risen to 1,218. Monday also saw nearly 7,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York, increasing the total figure to almost 66,500. Of those cases, 36,221 are in New York City, according to city officials.

"If you wait to prepare for a storm to hit, it is too late," he said. "You have to prepare before the storm hits. And in this case the storm is when you hit that high point, when you hit that apex. How do you know when you're going to get there? You don't."

Cuomo has extended the state's order for all nonessential workers to remain at home to mid-April.

New York hospital ship USNS
The USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty as it arrives on March 30, 2020 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/Getty