Donald Trump visited Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday to send off the Comfort, which sails to New York City with medical aid amid the coronavirus fight
Donald Trump
Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Saturday traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, to send off a Navy hospital ship intended to provide medical relief to New York City as health care workers there continue to treat a swell of new coronavirus cases.

“This great ship behind me is a 70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity to the incredible people of New York,” he said while standing in front of the USNS Comfort.

The president’s speech came hours after he spoke to reporters on the White House South Lawn about possibly declaring an “enforceable” quarantine of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“We’d like to see New York quarantined because it’s a hotspot — New York, New Jersey, maybe one or two other places, certain parts of Connecticut quarantined. I’m thinking about that right now,” he said. “We might not have to do it but there’s a possibility that sometime today we’ll do a quarantine — short-term two weeks for New York, probably New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.”

The White House announced earlier this week that the Comfort would sail to New York City “to ease the burden of area hospitals tasked with responding to the coronavirus.”

“I think I’m going to go out and I’ll kiss it goodbye,” Trump, 73, told reporters on Thursday ahead of his trip.

“The ship will arrive, and I believe it’s going to get a little bit of a ceremony,” he said then. “There’s something very beautiful about it. It’s an incredible piece of work. Going to be landing at Pier 90 in Manhattan.”

Donald Trump
Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The ship is intended to treat the patients displaced from area hospitals inundated with coronavirus cases.

“Over 1200 medical personnel and critical supplies will be onboard the vessel,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Thursday. “They will bring to bear the skills, care, and compassion needed to wage this fight against an invisible enemy. These doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, x-ray technicians, orderlies, and other medical staff will augment and support New York City’s medical community and conserve hospital capacity by treating some non-COVID-19 patients.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the Trump administration Friday to approve construction of temporary medical facilities that could house 4,000 more hospital beds, saying he wants a temporary field hospital set up in each of the city’s five boroughs.

State officials are looking at the New York Expo Center in the Bronx, the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Port Authority-owned Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and the College of Staten Island as locations for the field hospitals, Politico reports.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency already began building four temporary hospitals inside the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan this week, to help ease the number of patients in the city’s increasingly crowded hospitals.

N.Y.C. has become the epicenter for the U.S. outbreak, which surpassed both China and Italy earlier this week as the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases.

Trump said Thursday night on Fox News that he didn’t believe New York needed the tens of thousands of ventilators that Cuomo, 62, had requested in order to treat the most ill coronavirus patients. The virus causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, which can cause severe lung damage.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Sean Hannity. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’ ”

Cuomo ramped up his pleas for the shipment of ventilators and for the federal government to step up its COVID-19 response this week, calling on the Trump administration to order FEMA to step in as the number of reported deaths there rose to more than 400.

“The president says it’s ‘a war,’ ” Cuomo said Tuesday, during his daily press briefing. “Well, then, act like it’s a war!”

He said that day that FEMA had only sent the state 400 ventilators so far, while the Trump administration said it would send an additional 4,000 ventilators following the governor’s requests this week.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator on Trump’s coronavirus task force said Thursday that New York still has 1,000 to 2,000 ventilators elsewhere in the state that aren’t being used while hospitals in N.Y.C. scramble to manage an influx of patients with the coronavirus.

COVID-19 causes flu-like symptoms including coughing, difficulty breathing and, in some of its most serious cases, pneumonia. Ventilators help reopen a patients’ lungs and provide oxygen while their bodies work to fight off the virus.

Cuomo said his request for more ventilators was meant to help combat the peak of the outbreak in New York, which health officials expect to come in about two weeks. The Associated Press reports that relief workers are rushing to set up temporary hospitals and a morgue in Manhattan.

“You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators,” Cuomo said Tuesday, calling on Trump to take more action.

The number of reported cases around the world surpassed half a million this week, according to available data. At least 25,000 people have died as the novel coronavirus has reached nearly every country in the world.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.