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USNS Mercy won't be deploying for COVID-19 relief anytime soon

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy, shown on March 23, 2020 in San Diego.

DAVID MORA JR./U.S. NAVY

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: January 6, 2021

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship that in March took aboard non-COVID-19 patients to help with a surge of patients in Los Angeles area hospitals, is not likely to be deployed to help again anytime soon, Navy officials said on Tuesday.

The 1,000-bed hospital ship is presently in a shipyard in Portland undergoing scheduled maintenance. The maintenance was planned before the ship's LA deployment, but deferred.

"There is no plan to deploy USNS Mercy at this time, or any time in the near future," said Sarah Burford, a spokesperson for the ship's command. "The ship is in the shipyard for an extended maintenance period for the next few months. It's pretty much impossible to get it underway. We aren't sure how long the maintenance will take."

Last week, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn requested that Gov. Gavin Newsom appeal to the federal government to bring the ship and its medical personnel back to the Port of Los Angeles as the region prepares for the anticipated coronavirus post-holiday "surge upon a surge."

On Tuesday, Jan. 5, Newsom's office said in a statement it was informed the ship was in dry dock and unavailable for service. The Navy had not received an official request for the ship from the federal government.

Instead, Newsom and the California Office of Emergency Services have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency and United States Department of Defense to acquire and immediately deploy to additional hospitals in Southern California, medical personnel equivalent to the staff that would have been on the USNS Mercy, and then some, officials said.

Newsom has requested 360 military medical personnel, 135 U.S. Health and Human Services Disaster Medical Assistance Team personnel and an additional 50 FEMA personnel, bringing the current federal augmentation request to more than 500 people.

If the Mercy were to be deployed, it would have to make it's way back from the shipyard to its home port in San Diego with a skeleton crew of civilian mariners. There it would get it ready for its mission.

When the Mercy was deployed to the Port of Los Angeles in March, it took five days to assemble the supplies, medicines, equipment and medical personnel.

Typically, when the Mercy is dockside in San Diego, there is a civilian mariners crew to run the ship's daily maintenance and a handful of Navy medical personnel who handle medications and equipment to make sure everything is operational should a mission arise.

If the Mercy is called for service, reservists and active-duty Naval medical personnel are assembled from locations across the country.

"When we get ready for a mission that's when people start to come aboard," Burford said. "Once we get an order, we have five days to get underway."

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