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Coronavirus testing on USS Theodore Roosevelt complete — but crew still can't move back on board

Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt move meals, ready to eat for shipmates who have tested negative for the coronavirus at Naval Base, Guam, April 7, 2020.

JULIO RIVERA/U.S. NAVY

By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: April 24, 2020

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SAN DIEGO (Tribune Content Agency) — Four weeks to the day after the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt diverted to Guam because the coronavirus was spreading on board, the ship has finished testing all of its crew for the virus, the Navy said Thursday.

The latest numbers released Thursday show 840 sailors tested positive for coronavirus, which is more than 17% of the roughly 4,845 sailors on board.

Some who are positive for the virus are housed on base in isolation. Four sailors with coronavirus are in the hospital on Naval Base Guam. One sailor, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Thacker, 41, died from the virus last week.

More than 4,000 sailors have tested negative, and 4,234 have moved off the ship into hotels and facilities on Guam.

The Navy said about 60% of the sailors who have tested positive for the virus showed no coronavirus symptoms.

Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, said Thursday there is no timeline yet for the crew to move back aboard the ship.

The Roosevelt has been pier-side in Guam since March 26. The ship’s former captain, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired from command a week later after a letter he sent to a handful of Navy captains and admirals was leaked to the media. The acting Navy secretary that fired him, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned from his job April 7 after a speech he gave the crew over the ship’s loudspeaker in which he insulted Crozier also leaked to the media.

An investigation into the leaked letter is complete and an announcement of those findings from Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, is expected soon.

On the Theodore Roosevelt, a strict cleaning regimen is ongoing among the skeleton crew left behind, Vasquez said. Eventually those sailors will rotate off the vessel and begin their own quarantine, replaced by those who have completed theirs.

However, the Navy is reevaluating its 14-day quarantine benchmark after a small percentage of sailors who initially tested negative later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Vasquez said.

“A small number of TR Sailors who met the criteria to be quarantined in hotels off base (negative test for coronavirus and no influenza-like symptoms) later developed symptoms and/or received positive results in secondary tests,” Vasquez wrote in an email.

The Navy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting an investigation of the crew, retesting sailors, drawing blood and surveying volunteers in an effort to understand how the virus spread on board.

However, Vasquez said, the Navy isn’t waiting for that investigation to conclude to implement lessons from the Roosevelt outbreak on other ships.

In Washington state, where the aircraft carrier Nimitz is preparing to deploy, the Navy is testing 100% of its crew before getting underway in an attempt to avoid a similar outbreak, Vasquez said.

Currently 45 ships are at sea in the Pacific Fleet area of operations, he said. None of those ships have cases of the novel coronavirus on board, Vasquez said.

The Navy and CDC said their investigation of the Roosevelt outbreak should take about a month.

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