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Navy says it will quarantine ship-board deployed sailors with flu-like symptoms

Sailors assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America watch as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sails alongside in February of 2020.

THEODORE C. LEE/U.S. NAVY

By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: March 10, 2020

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — Navy officials on Monday described some measures they are taking on board deployed ships at sea in response to the coronavirus, including a plan to quarantine any sailor who displays flu-like symptoms.

Read more coronavirus coverage from Stars and Stripes.

The Navy does not have COVID-19 test kits on its ships — instead, samples from sailors will be sent to onshore laboratories for testing, Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, a Navy spokesman, said.

“All testing for COVID-19 will be conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines,” Vasquez said in an email. “Any member who shows influenza-like symptoms will be restricted to their quarters for evaluation over a 14-day period or until test results come back negative.”

Those quarters, for the majority of a ship’s crew, are compact berthing racks in stacks of two or three with shared restrooms and showers.

San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt pulled into Da Nang, Vietnam, on March 5 for a visit to commemorate the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations, the Navy said in a release Thursday. On Sunday, Vietnamese media reported nine new cases of COVID-19 in the country, including two in Da Nang.

Lt. Cmdr. Julie Holland, a Navy spokeswoman assigned to the Roosevelt, said in an email that the health and well-being of the ship’s sailors is the Navy’s “top priority.”

“We are taking every measure to ensure our sailors’ safety while accomplishing our mission in the Indo-Pacific,” Holland said. “Safeguards have been put in place on board to monitor the health of all Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group Sailors to include ongoing evaluation and observation, and the continued reinforcement of established hygiene protocols.”

Navy aircraft carriers, such as the Roosevelt, deploy with more than 5,000 sailors on board, including the ship’s company, its embarked air wing and command administrative staffs. As evidenced by the virus’s recent spread on cruise ships, vessels at sea are vulnerable to outbreaks due to the close quarters of those on board as they live, work and eat.

According to Vasquez, the Roosevelt is following “all CDC guidance” to reduce the risk of respiratory viruses, but declined to say whether the vessel extended its daily cleaning routine, saying only that the ship “continues to conduct daily cleaning stations using appropriate cleaning techniques and products.”

Mess decks are another area of concern on a carrier, given that thousands of sailors eat at least three times a day. Those will also see adjustments to the routine, Vasquez said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the ship will limit self-serving lines,” Vasquez said. “Culinary specialists in the galley will be putting the main food items on plates for sailors vs. each individual sailor serving themselves.”

Vasquez added that no one on the Roosevelt has contracted COVID-19.

The shipboard measures are just part of the Navy’s response to the spreading COVID-19 illness.

Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman with Naval Air Forces in San Diego, said carriers have “robust” medical departments

“Each aircraft carrier has a very robust health services department — second only to hospital ships,” Flanders said during a phone interview Monday.

Out of what it called “an abundance of caution,” the Navy is canceling all public recruit graduations at its Great Lakes, Ill., boot camp to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 to either recruits or Navy families, the service announced in a post on Facebook on Monday.

It has also canceled recruit liberty, in which newly graduated sailors are allowed to spend graduation weekend off-base. Instead, according to the Recruit Training Command’s post, sailors will report directly to their follow-on assignments.

San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot, which will graduate a company of newly minted Marines on Friday, said its family day and public graduation are still scheduled as planned, according to a spokesman.

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