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Navy to announce fate of fired Theodore Roosevelt captain as ship’s coronavirus cases surpass 700

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transits the Arabian Gulf. (Anthony Rivera/U.S. Navy)

The Navy is preparing to announce the findings of its investigation into how a letter from the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt describing a COVID-19 outbreak on the ship was leaked to the news media.

Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations and the service’s top officer, will announce investigation results as early as Wednesday at the Pentagon, according to a Navy official.

The fate of the Roosevelt’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, hinges on whether Gilday agrees with an assessment by former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modley that Crozier isn’t fit for command because he did not take proper steps to ensure his letter did not leak.

The letter, which warned of dire consequences if the Navy did not evacuate thousands of Roosevelt sailors, was first published by the San Francisco Chronicle. It touched off a series of events that led to national news coverage and controversy.

The San Diego-based Theodore Roosevelt left home port at Naval Air Station North Island in January for a routine deployment. The Navy announced the first known cases of COVID-19 on board March 24, two weeks after the ship visited Vietnam.

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Two days later, the number of affected sailors on board had increased exponentially and the ship pulled into Guam.

Four days later, Crozier sent a letter, attached to an email, to Pacific Fleet commanders, predicting that unless the Navy moved the majority of its crew off the ship that sailors would needlessly die. A copy of the email obtained by The Washington Post shows it was sent to 10 people — three admirals and seven Navy captains.

The letter leaked and was published March 31. On April 1, Navy leaders said they were investigating how the letter leaked. The next day Modly fired Crozier, saying inaccurately that Crozier had sent the email to up to 30 people.

“It was copied to 20 or 30 other people,” Modly said during a Pentagon press briefing. “That’s just not acceptable. He sent it out pretty broadly and in sending it out pretty broadly he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked.”

According to Modly, the dissemination of the letter showed “extremely poor judgment” on Crozier’s part in the midst of a crisis.

Days later, Modly flew to the western Pacific island and, in a profanity-laced speech over the Roosevelt’s public address system, said Crozier was naive and stupid if he believed his letter wouldn’t be leaked.

Modly resigned April 7, a day after audio of that speech also leaked and was broadly publicized.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on NBC’s “Today” show that the department had not ruled out reinstating Crozier, depending on the results of the Navy’s investigation.

Crozier was widely supported by his crew. As he left the ship on April 3, hundreds of the crew cheered him and chanted his name, videos posted to social media show.

The Roosevelt has a total crew of roughly 4,845 service members, including its embarked air wing and command staff.

On Tuesday the Navy announced that 710 of them — almost 15% — have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with 43 recovered. Eight are in the hospital on Naval Base Guam, including one who moved out of the intensive care unit.

One Roosevelt sailor — San Diego-based Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Thacker — died of COVID-19 on Guam April 13.

More than 4,100 sailors have moved off the ship and are in quarantine in either local hotels or on Naval Base Guam, according to the Navy.

Navy leadership is reevaluating its 14-day quarantine policy for Roosevelt sailors after a small percentage of the quarantined sailors who had negative tests later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, even after their quarantine, and despite being asymptomatic, a Navy official told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Tuesday.

Between 50% and 60% of sailors from the ship who have tested positive for the virus have no COVID-19 symptoms, the official said.

On Monday, the Navy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began an extensive study of the ship’s crew in an effort to better understand how the virus spread. Results are expected in a month.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.