Sailor aboard hospital ship Mercy, docked in L.A., tests positive for coronavirus

The hospital ship Mercy arrived in Los Angeles in March with a mission of treating patients who do not have COVID-19.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A sailor on board the hospital ship Mercy tested positive for COVID-19 and will be removed from the ship, a Navy official said Wednesday.

The sailor is isolated aboard the ship and will soon transfer to an off-ship isolation facility, said Cmdr. John Fage, a 3rd Fleet spokesman. Crew members with whom the sailor came into contact also will be isolated and removed from the ship, he said.

For the record:

6:54 a.m. April 9, 2020An earlier version of this story said the Mercy has a medical crew of 800. While the ship left San Diego with 800 medical personnel, more than 200 have since been added.

The sailor has not been in contact with patients, Fage said.

“The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board,” Fage said in an emailed statement. “We’re taking every precaution to mitigate the risk of inadvertent exposure to COVID-19 for the military treatment facility and entire Mercy crew.”


The positive test won’t affect the Mercy’s ability to receive and treat patients, Fage said.

The man derailed the train because he believed the Mercy was part of suspicious activities involving the coronavirus, prosecutors said.

April 1, 2020

The Mercy left San Diego on March 23 and arrived at the Port of Los Angeles four days later. Its mission is to relieve Los Angeles hospitals by treating patients who do not have COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, there were 12 patients on board, Fage said. The ship has treated a total of 30 patients since arriving in Los Angeles.

According to Fage, before patients are admitted aboard the Mercy, they must test negative for the virus.

It is unclear when or how its crew member was exposed to the virus. Naval Medical Forces Pacific told the Union-Tribune that some of its crew previously were assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego, one of two local military facilities that are treating COVID-19 patients.


As researchers race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the potential for the coronavirus to perpetually rebound has ramped up the urgency in finding a worldwide cure.

April 10, 2020

News of the positive case comes days after a sailor on the Comfort, the Mercy’s sister ship in New York, tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Unlike the Mercy, the Comfort is not requiring patients to test negative for COVID-19 before they are treated on the ship.

Navy ships create unique challenges for containing the spread of pathogens due to the close quarters in which crew eat, sleep and work.

The Mercy has a medical crew of more than 1,000 personnel and a smaller civilian crew that maintains the vessel’s shipboard systems.

Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.