Navy braces for COVID-19 assault on fleet

Navy braces for COVID-19 assault on fleet

Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist, right, and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten brief reporters on the Defense Department’s COVID-19 efforts, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 9, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON — The Navy is scrambling to limit the spread of COVID-19 across the fleet as the reality of the virus’s penetration prowess is dawning on the Pentagon.

The ramp-up comes as a sailor from the USS Theodore Roosevelt who had tested positive for COVID-19 has been sent to an intensive care unit, officials said Thursday.

The carrier, which has become the unintended flagship for the COVID-19 Navy crisis, has at least 416 of its 4,000-member now infected, including the former commander Capt. Brett Crozier. At least 1,164 tests of Roosevelt crew members are pending, officials told Pentagon reporters on Thursday.

“Sadly this morning we had our first hospitalization of the one sailor,” Gen. John Hyten, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a press briefing. “We’re hoping that that sailor recovers. We’re praying for him and his family and his shipmates.”

He said the Navy had hoped that no sailors from the Roosevelt would be hospitalized, but that’s “just not going to be the case with coronavirus … even in our demographic.”

The sailor tested positive for COVD-19 on March 30 and was in a 14-day isolation period on Naval Base Guam before his hospitalization, the Navy said in a statement Thursday.

In a virtual townhall meeting on Thursday, Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs, said that despite the widespread of the virus, the Roosevelt could be put back to sea and returned to duty rapidly if dictated by events.

Hyden said the Pentagon expects COVID-19 to hit more ships. According to reports and Pentagon officials, at least two other ships now patrolling the Pacific are facing a threat from the virus.

“It’s not a good idea to think that the Teddy Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind issue,” Hyten said. “We have too many ships at sea.

“To think that it will never happen again is not a good way to plan,” he said.

Hyten said there has been a “very small number of breakouts” on the USS Nimitz, another carrier now docked in Washington state. He said infected sailors on the ship have been physically separated.

The Navy issued a statement saying that one sailor who was on leave and never stepped onto the ship tested positive. Another sailor on the ship exhibited symptoms, but the test results were inconclusive, according to the statement.

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