USNS Mercy Crew Member Tests Positive for Coronavirus While Hospital Ship Docked in Los Angeles

The novel coronavirus has infected a crew member aboard the USNS Mercy, the hospital ship docked in Los Angeles to provide relief to local hospitals by treating non-COVID-19 patients.

The infected medical treatment facility crew member has been isolated on the ship and will be transferred to a facility where they will self-monitor for severe symptoms, the U.S. Navy confirmed on Wednesday.

Crew members who have been in contact with the infected individual will also be isolated and removed from the ship, Cmdr. John Fage, a 3rd Fleet spokesperson for the Navy, confirmed.

"The ship is following protocols and is taking precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board," said Lt. Joseph Pfaff, Navy Public Affairs Officer.

The latest positive case will not affect medical operations aboard the ship, Pfaff added.

It is unknown how the individual was exposed to the virus but some crew members were reported to have previously been assigned to THE Naval Medical Center San Diego, one of two local military facilities where COVID-19 patients are being treated, Naval Medical Forces Pacific told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

All patients must test negative for the virus before being allowed to board the ship, according to Fage.

Around 30 patients have been treated so far on the 1,000-bed hospital ship, equipped with 800 medical staff, since it arrived in Los Angeles last month. They have been treated for conditions such as gunshot wounds, heart failure and pneumonia, but no COVID-19 cases.

U.S.N.S. Mercy Los Angeles coronavirus March 2020
U.S. Navy personnel look at the U.S.N.S. Mercy hospital ship after it arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on March 27, 2020. Getty Images

The latest news follows a positive case confirmed aboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship in New York City earlier this week.

"A crew member onboard USNS Comfort tested positive for COVID-19 April 6. The crewmember is isolated from patients and other crew members," a statement from the Navy confirmed.

The statement added: "There is no impact to Comfort's mission, and this will not affect the ability for Comfort to receive patients. The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board."

The USNS Comfort was deployed for the same mission as the USNS Mercy. Earlier this week the request for the ship to be used to treat COVID-19 patients was approved by President Donald Trump. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made the request as the city is struggling to cope with an overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases, which currently stands at 81,803.

The ship, equipped with 1,000 hospital beds and 1,200 medical workers, came under criticism last week after delays in admitting patients before it was approved to take COVID-19 patients. It reportedly had only taken 20 patients aboard since it began operations on April 1, with hundreds of beds on the ship remaining unused.

New York is the worst-hit state in the country, reporting the highest number of cases and deaths, including at least 4,571 deaths in New York City.

The virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 88,500 people, including more than 14,000 in the U.S. Over 329,800 have recovered from infection, including reportedly nearly 24,000 in the U.S.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Coronavirus, update, April 8, Statista
The chart shows the spread of coronavirus cases across the U.S. as of April 8. Statista

Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University unless otherwise stated.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.