Battling coronavirus, California asks Navy for hospital ship and two mobile hospitals

Patients screened outside Loma Linda University Health
Medical personnel screen patients outside the emergency room at Loma Linda University Health in Loma Linda, Calif., on March 17, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic.
( Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state has asked the Department of Defense to deploy the Navy’s Mercy hospital ship and two mobile hospitals to California to help care for the expected surge in hospitalizations of residents stricken by the novel coronavirus.

California has seen the number of confirmed cases continue to rise: at least 836 cases and 17 deaths as of Wednesday, compared with 157 cases and three deaths the week before. Nearly 12,000 people in the state are self-monitoring for symptoms.

The governor said the state is working to expand its cache of hospital beds by roughly 20,000, the number needed if more than half of Californians come down with the coronavirus.


“That’s just one scenario plan. There’s others that are more modest. Some may, some cases be more extreme,” Newsom said Wednesday evening during a Facebook Live broadcast. “When you’re looking at getting an additional [19,000] to 20,000 beds in your system, you have to look at your existing surge capacity within the healthcare delivery system, and you have to look at procuring additional assets.”

The state estimates that surge capacity in California’s existing hospital system could accommodate 10,000 patients.

The state also is in the process of procuring two hospitals that are currently off-line, one in Southern California and one in Northern California, along with leasing hotels and motels where coronavirus patients could be housed and treated.

If requests for the military medical assistance are granted, California should be close to reaching the 20,000-bed threshold, Newsom said.