Days after the first USS Theodore Roosevelt Navy sailor was admitted into an intensive care unit to be treated for COVID-19, another ship with sailors who have been isolated over fears of coronavirus is preparing to get underway.
The USS Nimitz is preparing to set sail after one of the ship’s sailors was removed from the crew and put in isolation for showing flu-like symptoms, according to anonymous sources who spoke to The Washington Post.
A defence official speaking to the paper said the sailor has been tested twice for the virus, but thus far results have been inconclusive.
A spokesperson for the US Navy 3rd Fleet – which includes the USS Nimitz – said the sailor who was removed has met the requirements to be considered recovered and will be allowed to return to working on the ship.
According to Politico, commanders on the ship are reporting that it is free of coronavirus cases after the sailor’s tests came back inconclusive.
Approximately 15 sailors who had contact with the sailor who had to be removed have also been quarantined, but will soon be cleared to return to work.
The crew onboard the USS Nimitz were embarked early this month in an effort to separate them from the general populace and reduce the likelihood of sailors becoming infected.
Commander John Fage, a spokesman for the Navy, said that the crew “has been and will continue to conduct increased cleaning stations” to maintain standards suggested by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Navy has confirmed that there are no active cases on the ship, but sailors preparing to get underway on the USS Nimitz are still nervous.
The father of a sailor aboard the USS Nimitz said his son and other sailors were using t-shirts to make face masks and that the sailors were worried about the virus spreading throughout the ship.
“I think he’s pretty worried. He feels like they’re not taking it seriously,” the man said. “It’s how the chiefs are handling it, and the fact that there are cases on board and they’re still thinking of pulling out.”
Fears of new outbreaks cropping up in the cramped quarters of a Navy vessel or other military facility aren’t unfounded; cases of coronavirus have been found on the USS Ronald Regan and the USS Carl Vinson. General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it would be unwise to think the outbreak that occurred on the USS Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t happen elsewhere in the Armed Forces.
“It’s not a good idea to think that the Teddy Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind issue,” he said during a news conference. “We have too many ships at sea … to think that it will never happen again is not a good way to plan.”
More than 400 of the 5,000 sailors working on the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for coronavirus, including its former captain, Brett Crozier.
Mr Crozier was relieved from duty after sending a letter to superiors asking for his aircraft carrier to be evacuated and cleaned following the discovery that 23 of his sailors were infected with coronavirus.
The ship docked in Guam and the sailors underwent testing for the virus. President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly disapproved of Mr Crozier’s letter and he was removed from command.
Days later, Mr Modly travelled to Guam to address the sailors, who were largely supportive of their former commanding officer. The crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt clapped and chanted as Mr Crozier left the ship.
Mr Modly told the sailors that Mr Crozier was either “too stupid” or “too naive” to think his letter wouldn’t get leaked to the press and suggested the captain sent the letter with the intention of it being made public. The crew of the ship responded with hostility to Mr Modly’s visit.
Mr Modly’s speech was leaked to the press and, following its publication and the ensuing backlash, Mr Modly resigned from his position as Secretary of the Navy.
Mr Esper has since said that he would be open to reinstating Mr Crozier.
While the Navy’s top brass wrestle with PR nightmares, the rest of the branch is still trying to determine how they can administer tests with the speed and scope it needs to maintain its operations.
Presently, only sailors with symptoms are being tested for the virus. However, as coronavirus can be spread by asymptomatic carriers, there is the potential for a sailor to carry the virus aboard and spread it once a ship has set out, creating another situation like the one faced by the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
“The challenge we have now, is having that type of capability where we can test in volume and at speed,” Admiral Mike Gilday said during a press briefing. “I really don’t have a good estimate right now on when that testing capability might be available in the kinds of quantities we would like to see.