Aircraft carrier diverts to Guam after more coronavirus cases found on board

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Pacific Ocean on May 4, 2018.


By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 26, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Five more sailors have tested positive for the coronavirus on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, forcing the ship to travel to Guam to conduct widespread testing of the crew, the acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Thursday.

“We found several more cases on board the ship. We are in the process now of testing 100% of the crew of that ship to ensure that we're able to contain whatever spread might have occurred there on the ship,” Modly told reporters in a news briefing from the Pentagon. “But I also want to emphasize that the ship is operationally capable, could do its mission if required to do so.”

The new cases bring the total confirmed cases on the ship to eight. But Modly said several more sailors are in isolation.

A defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the cases on the Roosevelt are increasing, and the ship is focused now on doing testing and more deep cleaning in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that cases on the aircraft carrier are up to at least 23, according to an unnamed defense official.

There are 800 coronavirus test kits on the ship and more being flown there Thursday, Modly said. The Roosevelt can do limited testing and processing of tests on the ship, but most tests will be sent to Defense Department laboratories for processing. The testing of the 5,000 crew members will be a mix of swab tests and surveillance tests.

While the ship is at a pier in Guam, no sailor will leave the area, according to Modly.

The Navy seems to have the highest number of positive coronavirus cases at 133, one-third of cases in the Defense Department, he said. But Modly also said he was uncertain why that is and would not speculate on any causes. He said more analysis needed to be done to determine the reason for the higher number of cases.

Of the 133 coronavirus cases in the Navy, 104 are active-duty sailors. As of Thursday, the Pentagon reported 280 service members, 134 civilian workers, 98 dependents and 62 contractors had cases of the virus.

Reuters reported Thursday that the Pentagon would no longer provide detailed data about the coronavirus cases in the department, such as locations of people who are infected. The Navy has been sending out daily updates on new cases across the service, and Modly said Thursday that while they have to consider operational and privacy concerns, he wanted to continue to share how the virus is impacting the service.

“We will follow the direction of the secretary of defense in terms of this, but from our perspective — from my perspective, being as transparent as possible is probably the best path,” he said.

The Marine Corps has 44 positive cases of coronavirus, of which 31 are Marines, five are civilian workers, five are dependents and three are contractors. 

A Marine stationed at the Pentagon tested positive Tuesday, the first service member at the Pentagon to test positive. According to an Air Force statement Friday, a contractor working for the Air Force at the Pentagon tested positive and has been in quarantine at home since March 7.

The Marine has been in self-isolation since the individual’s spouse started showing symptoms, according to Modly. The last time that the individual was at the Pentagon was March 13. Since then, the individual’s desk has been cleaned by a response team and people who worked closely with the Marine are being identified.

At Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., where basic training is conducted, two Marine recruits have tested positive, Modly said. Additionally, two other Marines stationed at the base, but who work separate from recruit training, have also tested positive. 

The Marine Corps has canceled or postponed exercises and nonessential training, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said.

Readiness of the force is still a priority, according to Berger, so only essential training is ongoing with modifications to deal with social distancing, such as more spacing between Marines at pistol ranges.

“We are mandated by law to be the nation's most ready force and that's what I think you expect us to be,” Berger said.

Decisions about keeping services open such as barber shops are being left up to local leadership. Berger said he did not feel it necessary to have widespread relaxation of grooming standards when not all communities have the same risks. The Navy, however, has closed all barbershops and salons and is relaxing hair-length standards.

The Marine Corps has also become more creative with their recruiting mission by making it virtual through phone calls and other digital means, according to a Marine Corps statement. Recruits who are graduating basic training also will not be able to bring family members to attend their graduations. The ceremonies will be televised and recordings will be made available to graduates, according to Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Troy Black.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that their West Coast-based hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, will arrive in Los Angeles by Friday. The other hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will leave Norfolk, Va., on Saturday and be in New York Harbor by early next week, Modly said.

Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

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