The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt steams in the Philippine Sea, March 24, 2020.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt steams in the Philippine Sea, March 24, 2020. (Jomark Almazan/U.S. Navy)

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WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that the USS Theodore Roosevelt could be back at sea in weeks as the Navy announced coronavirus cases among the crew increased to more than 600 sailors.

Esper said during an interview with Fox News that once the aircraft carrier has been cleaned as a result of the virus outbreak, the ship will return to sea in a few weeks for patrols.

The defense secretary’s comments followed a Navy announcement Wednesday that a fifth sailor assigned to the Roosevelt has been hospitalized due to the coronavirus as illnesses continue to increase among the crew.

The sailor is being treated at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, where four other sailors were transferred Tuesday. One sailor remains in intensive care for observation due to shortness of breath.

The hospitalizations this week follow the death Monday of one Roosevelt sailor who had been in intensive care after being found unresponsive April 9 while in quarantine on Guam. The sailor has not yet been identified, pending notification of next of kin.

The Roosevelt has been in port in Guam since March 27 after an outbreak of the virus aboard the nuclear-powered carrier diverted it during a scheduled deployment.

Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commander of the Roosevelt, was fired April 2 after his emailed letter about the ship’s virus outbreak was leaked to the media. Then acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who resigned amid the Roosevelt controversy, initiated an investigation into Crozier’s actions and the climate of Pacific Fleet “to help determine what may have contributed to this breakdown in the chain of command,” he said at the time.

Esper said Wednesday that the investigation was completed last week and it will be reviewed by new acting Navy Secretary James McPherson this week. Esper said he will see the report sometime after that.

As of Wednesday, there are 615 Roosevelt sailors with positive tests for the virus. Most of the about 4,800 member crew has been tested, with 3,958 receiving a negative test result. About 4,026 sailors have been transferred from the ship to Guam.

The Navy has 951 positive cases of the virus among its military personnel, the highest number of cases of the military services. Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

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