USS Theodore Roosevelt: COVID-19 cases rise, evacuation of sailors underway

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases on board the US Navy’s Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Pacific has surged, according to Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly.

On April 1, the Roosevelt had 93 positive cases, with 86 of those service members exhibiting symptoms and seven having no symptoms, Modly said in a telephone briefing for Pentagon reporters.

So far, 593 have tested negative. Nearly 1,300 crew members have been tested so far, and some of the results have not come back yet, he added. Last week, Modly said that nearly 5,000 crew on board the ship would be tested for COVID-19.

Modly’s update on the COVID-19 situation on board the aircraft carrier comes after commanding officer Capt. Brett Crozier urged the navy on March 30 to engage more in preventing the spread of the pandemic aboard the vessel. In the letter, he said that “decisive action is required now”, in line with CDC guidelines, to “prevent tragic outcomes”.

Crozier said that the majority of the sailors should leave the vessel and be put in 14-day individual quarantines. He suggested that only 10 percent of crew should remain on board to sanitize the vessel and ensure security.

According to Modly, the US Navy has accelerated testing and is deep-cleaning all the spaces on the ship.

“We are providing the commanding officer what he has requested, and we are doing our best to accelerate the pace wherever we can,” the acting secretary added.

Modly provided a timeline of actions the US Navy has taken since the Roosevelt deployed.

“Prior to deployment, we embarked a special medical team on the ship,” he said, noting that before Roosevelt’s visit to Vietnam, the World Health Organization identified fewer than 20 COVID-19 cases there at the time, and all of them were in Hanoi, which is “far away from where the ship was going.”

“We had no positive tests at that time,” the acting secretary pointed out.

“At the end of the 14-day observation period aboard the ship, there were two sailors with symptoms who had positive tests,” he said, adding that they were properly isolated and flown off the ship to the naval hospital in Guam, and that their symptoms have since been resolved.

“We identified and quarantined all those who were suspected of being in close contact with those that had tested positive,” Modly said. And all sailors with confirmed positive tests were removed from the ship and isolated immediately, the acting secretary told reporters.

The US Navy continues its process of contact tracing, quarantine and monitoring to understand who might have been infected, according to Modly.

Once in port in Danang, Modly said, the commanding officer and the medical team expressed concern that the spaces off the ship were not sufficient to isolate service members at an adequate pace.

Additional space in Guam was sought immediately, and progress is being made, Modly said.

“We already have nearly 1,000 personnel off the ship right now, and in the next couple of days, we expect to have about 2,700 of them off the ship,” he informed.

Modly emphasized that the US Navy will not remove every sailor from the Roosevelt, noting that although it’s big, it floats and it has a lot of people on it, the comparison of the aircraft carrier to a cruise ship pretty much ends there.

“This ship has weapons on it. It has munitions on it. It has expensive aircraft, and it has a nuclear power plant. It requires a certain number of people on that ship to maintain safety and security,” he stressed.