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Navy destroyer fighting COVID-19 outbreak arrives in San Diego, sailors move off ship

The guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) arrives in San Diego April 28 as part of the Navy’s aggressive response to the COVID-19 outbreak on board the ship. While in San Diego, the Navy will provide medical care for the crew and clean and disinfect the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes)

A Navy destroyer battling an outbreak of the novel coronavirus pulled into Naval Base San Diego Tuesday where much of its crew will begin an off-ship quarantine and a small number will stay behind to clean and disinfect the ship, Navy officials said.

As of Tuesday, 64 sailors on the guided-missile destroyer Kidd have tested positive for the coronavirus. The ship, based in Everett, Wa., has a crew of about 330. About 63 percent of the crew has been tested for the virus, the Navy said in a statement.

The Kidd left Washington in early January, stopping briefly in San Diego before deploying alongside the Theodore Roosevelt.

Most of the crew will be housed in quarantine in a local hotel for at least 14 days, the Navy said. Sailors who test positive for the virus will be isolated in the same hotel but separate from the rest of the crew, according to a Navy official with knowledge of the plan but who is not authorized to speak publicly.

About 90 sailors will stay behind to run the ship and begin a deep-clean, said Cmdr. Patrick Evans, a spokesman for Naval Surface Force Pacific.

The Navy is applying what it has learned from the outbreak on the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been sidelined more than a month in Guam with a coronavirus outbreak of its own, Evans said.

“We, as a Navy, have to learn fast,” Evans said when reached by phone Tuesday.

Among those lessons is the stipulation that quarantined sailors do not leave their hotel rooms.

“Military health professionals will monitor them,” said Lt. Cmdr. Patricia Kreuzberger, a Naval Surface Force Pacific spokeswoman, in an email. “In addition, the Navy has established a 24-hour roving watch to ensure that Sailors who are quarantined and in isolation abide by the established CDC and Navy-specific health and safety guidelines.”

After a minimum 14-day quarantine, those sailors who test negative for the virus will return, and the 90 or so left behind will move off the ship for their own quarantine, Evans said. It’s a process identical to what’s being done in Guam with the Roosevelt.

Two Kidd sailors were evacuated to a military hospital in San Antonio last week, and 15 were transferred to the Amphibious Assault Ship Makin Island for monitoring due to COVID-19 symptoms, the Navy said. None of the crew have required intensive care.

Navy officials who the Union-Tribune spoke with Tuesday said it’s a mystery how the virus got on board.

The ship was last in port in Hawaii in mid-March — more than a month ago and more than the estimated 14-day dormant period for the virus. Also, unlike on an aircraft carrier, there is not a frequent coming and going of personnel on destroyers via aircraft to and from the ship.

Theodore Roosevelt hits milestone as sailors recover, begin moving back aboardFor the first time in more than a month Tuesday the Navy reported fewer COVID-19 positive sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt than it had the day before, a sign the outbreak is on a downward curve since it began in late March.

The Navy reported 940 cases of the novel coronavirus, and 29 sailors have recovered on the aircraft carrier. Sailors are not considered to have recovered until two successive negative tests, the Navy said.

One sailor remains hospitalized, down from a peak of nine. One sailor from the ship, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Thacker, died from the disease March 13.

More than 4,200 sailors moved off the ship over the last month, leaving behind a skeleton crew to clean and man its two nuclear reactors.

On Wednesday, the Navy expects to begin moving that skeleton crew off the ship and into quarantine, as others return to take their positions — an important milestone in getting the ship ready to get underway, according to a Navy official.

Meanwhile the plight of the ship’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, is still up in the air, as Defense Secretary Mark Esper reviews the reported recommendation from Navy leadership that the captain be reinstated to his post.

Crozier was fired from command April 2 after a letter he sent to a handful of Navy captains and admirals asking for help to move thousands of sailors into quarantine off the ship was leaked to the press.

The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, then told the crew over the ship’s loudspeaker that Crozier was naive or stupid to believe his letter wouldn’t be leaked. Modly’s speech also was leaked, and Modly resigned on April 7.

The Roosevelt and the Kidd both left San Diego in mid-January for deployment. The Kidd left the Roosevelt’s battle group weeks later to deploy off the Pacific coast of South America to conduct counter-drug operations.


© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune