The US government has asked the Pentagon to prepare two US Navy hospital ships to help tackle the coronavirus crisis in New York and California.
USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are now being hurriedly readied for deployment "to assist overwhelmed communities with acute patient care," according to the US Department of Defense.
Comfort is currently moored in Norfolk, Virginia, for maintenance, but the US Navy has now been tasked to expedite the work as quickly as possible so that the ship can head directly to New York.
Mercy, meanwhile, is on the West Coast and “ready to go within days".
However, the two 900ft 1,000-bed vessels face a fundamental operational challenge.
They are manned by naval personnel who are trained for combat trauma care rather dealing with highly contagious and dangerous diseases such as COVID-19.
The ships are also fitted out mainly with open-bay accommodation and have very few enclosed berths.
They vessels may, therefore, be used to take non-coronavirus patient care off civilian hospitals to allow them to deal instead with expectedly large numbers of coronavirus casualties.
"The deployment of the USNS Comfort to New York is an extraordinary but necessary step to help ensure our state has the capacity to handle an influx of patients with COVID-19," says New York governor Andrew Cuomo.