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USNS Mercy sends 40 of its medical crew to help nursing home with coronavirus care

The hospital ship USNS Mercy along with it's staff of 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff, along with more than 70 civil service mariners departed Naval Base San Diego on Monday, March 23, 2020. The Mercy will serve as a referral hospital for non COVID-19 patients. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/TNS)

With nursing homes seeing some of the most cases of coronavirus, the Navy hospital ship Mercy is sending some of its crew ashore to help care for older residents.

The ship, which has been docked at the Port of Los Angeles, will provide 40 of its medical crew members to a skilled nursing home in the Los Angeles area.

The medical personnel are expected to start helping at the nursing home early next week.

All members of the team have undergone a 14-day “restriction-of-movement” and were screened for the coronavirus. They will be staying off the ship.

Having some of the Mercy crew provide a helping hand to the facility is being done at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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The Navy ship was sent to Los Angeles to help ease the burden on the area’s hospitals that were expected to see a surge of patients with COVID-19. The ship would take patients with other medical emergencies, so the hospitals could focus on patients battling the virus.

So far the ship has taken on board and treated 54 non-COVID patients, and will continue with that primary mission, Lt. Andrew Bertucci, a spokesman for the Mercy, said Friday. April 17. Forty patients were released as of Friday.

Helping at the skilled nursing facility “expands USNS Mercy’s mission to serve as a ‘relief valve’ for state and local healthcare providers,” he said.

The medical team is expected to treat patients with COVID-19, and as with any healthcare worker will wear appropriate personal protective equipment to minimize their risk of exposure to COVID-19, Bertucci said.

Many of the worst outbreaks of the virus now occurring are in nursing facilities, and some are having staffing issues as workers are infected or stay home.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Friday, April 17, reported 40 new deaths in the county from coronavirus, increasing the total to 495 people since the outbreak began. Of those deaths, more than a third have been in skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

In a nationwide tally, the New York Times found the number of people living in or connected to nursing homes who have died of the coronavirus to be at least 7,000.

Navy officials aboard the ship have also dealt with a coronavirus outbreak among some of its medical personnel. So far, seven sailors have tested positive for COVID-19.

They and 113 other sailors, who may have had been exposed, were moved off the ship. Those who tested positive are in quarantine at a military facility. The others are also in isolation and are self-monitoring for symptoms.

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© 2020 The Orange County Register