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Coronavirus hits first deployed US warship – an aircraft carrier

USS Theodore Roosevelt (Jackie Hart/U.S. Navy)
March 24, 2020

Three coronavirus cases were confirmed Tuesday aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, marking the first coronavirus outbreak aboard a deployed U.S. warship.

“Three cases of Covid-19 have been identified among personnel currently deployed and underway on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, these are our first three cases of Covid-19 on a ship that is deployed,” said acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modlyduring a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday.

The three sailors were evacuated from the ship in the Philippine Sea and flown to a military hospital for treatment. Other personnel who were in contact with the three sailors have been quarantined.

“We’ve identified all those folks that they’ve had contact with and we are quantifying they as well,” Modly said.

It’s not yet clear how the sailors acquired the virus. The aircraft carrier had last visited a port in Vietnam 15 days earlier in a rare visit. Multiple aircraft had also landed on the carrier in recent days.

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“The commander on the ship right now is doing the best he can to isolate those known persons that came into contact with those three people,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said. “We are not in a position right now to say that we have to pull that ship in.”

“This is an example of our ability to keep our ships deployed at sea even with active COVID-19 cases,” Modly said.

“Our ships are sailing, our planes are flying, and training is still happening to safeguard our US national interests and those of all of our allies and partners around the world,” Modly added.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt hs a crew of 5,000 personnel. It has been at sea since January for patrols in the Western Pacific, and recently joined six other warships in a strike group for military exercises in the South China Sea.

Various other docked warships have reported coronavirus cases. At least a dozen confirmed coronavirus cases have been identified in San Diego area warships alone.

Several other ships are undergoing testing, including on the USS America and the USS Blue Ridge.

Modly revealed there are 86 confirmed coronavirus cases throughout the Navy, which include 57 service members, 13 civilians, 11 dependents, and five contractors.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley both confirmed in an online town hall on Tuesday that they expect the coronavirus crisis to extend for several months.

“I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long at least, and we’re taking all precautionary measures to do that,” Esper said.

 “You’re looking at somewhere around 90 days based on some of the other countries. That may or may not apply to the United States,” Milley said. “If it does apply, you’re looking at probably late May, June, something in that range. Maybe could be as late as July.”

“It’s very, very important, again, that we do what the professionals are telling us to do, which is flatten that curve, take all the appropriate measures for US in the military,” said Milley, “but also in the nation to do our part, so to speak, in order to reduce the probability and to mitigate the impact of this coronavirus globally.”