The majority of the 5,000 crew aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier are being evacuated from the ship and quarantined in hotel rooms for two weeks after a coronavirus outbreak led the captain of the ship to plead for help.
The aircraft carrier has been docked at Guam in recent days. On Wednesday, with the coordination of Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, the ship began moving crew members who have not tested positive for coronavirus to vacant hotels. According to the Wall Street Journal, those evacuated crew members will stay in their hotel rooms for a 14-day period, under watch from military guards.
“The plan is to remove as many people off the Teddy Roosevelt as we can, understanding that we have to leave a certain amount of folks on board to do normal watchstanding duties, to keep the ship running,” Rear Admiral John Menoni said in a press briefing with Guam’s governor.
The decision comes hours after Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier, called for help in a memo first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset—our sailors.”
Crozier went on to describe the spread of the virus as “ongoing and accelerating.”
At the time of the memo, more than 100 sailors were reported to have been infected with coronavirus. The initial outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt was reported on March 24, and three sailors were flown off the ship while it was still deployed in the Philippine Sea. Two days later the ship was reportedly heading to port in Guam to facilitate a plan to test all 5,000 crew members for coronavirus.
The ship’s coronavirus cases reportedly emerged after a port stop in DaNang, Vietnam. Sailors had also been in contact with a flight crew from a visiting aircraft.
The evacuation will reportedly take place in the coming days when hotel rooms are prepared to accommodate the quarantine effort.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said, in comments to CNN, that the effort to move the sailors into quarantine is underway, but that it is no easy undertaking given Guam’s relatively small size.
“The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities,” Modly said.
Modly said the task is further complicated by the need to secure the warship.
“We’re doing it in a very methodical way because it’s not the same as a cruise ship, that ship has armaments on it, it has aircraft on it, we have to be able to fight fires if there are fires on board the ship, we have to run a nuclear power plant,” Modly said.
Throughout the U.S. Navy, at least 216 sailors have now tested positive for coronavirus. Citing operational security concerns, the Navy has also recently stopped disclosing individual cases on its ships, and has instead offered service-wide figures.