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Sailors on ships won’t be tested for coronavirus unless they meet CDC threshold, Navy says

The USS Boxer, flagship of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, arrived at Naval Base San Diego, November 27, the day before Thanksgiving, ending a seven-month deployment. (Howard Lipin/TNS)

Navy sailors on ships at sea and in port won’t be tested for COVID-19 unless they meet the same benchmarks for testing as their civilian counterparts, according to Naval Medical Forces Pacific.

Those benchmarks, set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, include a fever of at least 100.4 degrees, symptoms of acute respiratory illness and a connection with a known COVID-19 case or recent travel to a high-risk area, according to Regena Kowitz, a Naval Medical Forces Pacific spokeswoman.

Those measures will remain in place despite concerns that the virus can spread from people who are not showing symptoms, or whose symptoms are mild.

According to the CDC website, researchers believe the virus is most contagious when people are symptomatic; however, experts told CNN Thursday they are concerned it can spread via those without symptoms as well.

One San Diego sailor who tested positive — a student at a Naval Base San Diego schoolhouse — was asymptomatic for COVID-19, but was tested because two others from the school also tested positive, Brian O’Rourke, a Navy spokesman, told The San Diego Union-Tribune Monday.

Other sailors have reached out to The San Diego Union-Tribune anonymously over recent days concerned about the lack of testing even for those sailors with symptoms of the virus.

Three sailors assigned to ships in San Diego — two on the amphibious assault ship Boxer and one on the littoral combat ship Coronado — have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last five days.

Although ships have been vectors for the spread of the virus — as seen with the Diamond Princess, Grand Princess and Boxer — Kowitz said that, as of Thursday, there is no plan to lower the testing threshold for the Navy’s shipboard sailors.

“Sailors should not be going to work ill and if they have concerns, they should contact their primary care facility,” Kowitz said in an email.

During a phone interview Thursday, Kowitz said Naval Medical Forces Pacific is preparing Navy medical staff — including those working in the San Diego area — to deploy on the hospital ship Mercy to an unnamed West Coast city.

On Thursday, California governor Gavin Newsom asked President Donald Trump in a letter to send the ship to the port of Los Angeles, though a Military Sealift Command official told USNI News the ship is bound for Seattle.

An announcement of its destination is expected Friday, Kowitz said.


© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune