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Three sailors evacuated from aircraft carrier are first to test positive for coronavirus at sea

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

ALEX CORONA/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 24, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Three sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Philippine Sea were flown off the ship Tuesday after testing positive for the coronavirus, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced.

“These are our first three cases of [coronavirus] on a ship that's deployed,” Modly told reporters at the Pentagon during a briefing on the Navy’s efforts to help combat the virus.

The sailors were flown to a military hospital in the Pacific region, according to Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations. He said he did not know how many people are in isolation aboard the ship after being in contact with the sailors.

The aircraft carrier has about 5,000 people aboard, Gilday said.

The Roosevelt was last in port 15 days ago in Danang in southern Vietnam. It was the second time that an American aircraft carrier has made a port call to the country since the fall of Saigon in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War.

Since Feb. 28, ships in the Pacific region under the command of 7th Fleet have been directed to spend at least 14 days at sea between port visits due to the virus outbreak in nearby countries.

Gilday would not directly connect the cases to the Danang port call, saying the Roosevelt has aircraft flying to and from the ship, making it difficult to determine where the infections originated. At the time of the Roosevelt’s visit in early March, there were only 16 cases of the virus in Vietnam, which were in the northern city of Hanoi, Gilday said. The decision for allowing the visit was made by Adm. Phil Richardson, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, he said.

Gilday said he believed most port visits now in the Pacific are just for maintenance or supplies, and only in rare cases would a sailor need to be away from the pier to pick up equipment.

The Navy is following the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to test only when a person has symptoms associated with coronavirus. The ship has the capability to test sailors, however it must still send samples to a Defense Department laboratory to be processed, said Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, the Navy’s surgeon general.

The Navy is examining what happened on the Roosevelt to determine whether there needs to be changes to procedures for ships at sea, Gilday said.

“Whenever we have a positive [test] on any ship with any unit…we're doing the forensics on each one of those cases to try and understand what kind of best practices, or the do's and the don'ts that we can quickly promulgate fleet-wide,” he said.

The Navy has 86 active coronavirus cases, Modly said. Out of the total, 57 are service members, 13 are Navy civilian workers, 11 are dependents, and five are contractors.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

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