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23 Facts About Hospital Ships That Are Honestly Fascinating

Two Navy hospital ships will be part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, so I was curious to learn more about them.

1. So, the United States currently operates two hospital ships: the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy.

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They are, quite literally, giant hospitals on a boat.

2. And, in case you hadn't heard, they're being deployed to help respond to the current coronavirus outbreak.

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However, neither hospital ship will be used to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus. They will be used to take non-coronavirus patient care off the hands of regular hospitals.

3. Originally, these two ships were built during the Cold War with the intent of providing medical service in the event of a "major conflict."

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They're designed to accommodate large numbers of casualties.

4. The Comfort and the Mercy hold an impressive amount of medical space and supplies, including 1,000 beds.

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For reference, as of 2018, Los Angeles had a total of 19,500 hospital beds.

5. They each have 12 fully equipped operating rooms...

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6. ...and digital radiology services.

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7. There's also things you might not expect on-board, like a medical lab...

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8. well as a pharmacy...

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9. optometry lab...

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10. ...a CAT scanner...

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11. ...and not one, but two oxygen-producing plants.

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So they can produce their own medical-grade oxygen.

12. At "full strength," each of these ships can have a crew of 71 and up to 1,200 doctors, nurses, and other medical specialists.

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Upon activation, the ships are boarded by US Navy medical personnel and loaded with medical supplies and equipment.

13. Other countries have hospital ships, too. For example, there's the Peace Ark in China and the RFA Argus in the United Kingdom.

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Pictured above is the Peace Ark.

14. Uniquely, the Peace Ark can even perform traditional Chinese medicine therapies like cupping and acupuncture.

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Into it.

15. While the RFA Argus is a smaller ship, having only a 100-bed medical complex on board.

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For the record, the Argus is about 574 feet long.

16. The USNS Comfort, by comparison, is huge. It's almost 900 feet long, which is longer than the length of two football fields.

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So...yeah, it's big.

17. Normally, the Comfort and the Mercy sit dockside and are only manned for basic maintenance.

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The Mercy docks in San Diego, California, and the Comfort in Norfolk, Virginia.

18. They are a part of the US Navy, but are actually classified as "auxiliaries."

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Meaning, they are non-combat support ships.

19. Both the Mercy and the Comfort were originally large oil tankers.

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They were converted to hospital ships in the mid-1980s.

20. More recently, they've been known to go out on humanitarian missions to other countries.

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For example, the Comfort has been deployed to Haiti six times in the past decade for medical assistance.

21. And these international humanitarian efforts can even include veterinarian care!

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Furry friends forever.

22. Before the Mercy and the Comfort, the US Navy had a number of other smaller medical ships (no longer operational) that served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

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This is the USS Repose, a Haven-class hospital ship, anchored in the harbor in Inchon, South Korea in Jan. 1952.

23. And finally, believe it or not, medical ships have been around for more than 200 years — some of the earliest hospital ships were actually converted paddlewheel steamboats used during the Civil War.

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Impressive. Most impressive.

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