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Sailor aboard hospital ship Mercy tests positive for COVID-19

The hospital ship USNS Mercy along with it's staff of 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff, along with more than 70 civil service mariners departed Naval Base San Diego on Monday, March 23, 2020. The Mercy will serve as a referral hospital for non COVID-19 patients. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/TNS)

A sailor on board the hospital ship Mercy tested positive for COVID-19 and will be removed from the ship, a Navy official said Wednesday.

The sailor is isolated aboard the ship and will soon transfer to an off-ship isolation facility, said Cmdr. John Fage, a 3rd Fleet spokesman. Crew members with whom the sailor came into contact also will be isolated and removed from the ship, he said.

The sailor has not been in contact with patients, Fage said.

“The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board,” Fage said in an emailed statement. “We’re taking every precaution to mitigate the risk of inadvertent exposure to COVID-19 for the military treatment facility and entire Mercy crew.”

The positive test won’t affect the Mercy’s ability to receive and treat patients, Fage said.

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The Mercy left San Diego March 23 and arrived at the Port of Los Angeles four days later. Its mission is to relieve Los Angeles hospitals by treating patients who do not have COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, there were 12 patients on board, Fage said. The ship has treated a total of 30 patients since arriving in Los Angeles.

According to Fage, before patients are admitted aboard the Mercy, they must test negative for the virus.

It is unclear when or how its crew member was exposed to the virus. Naval Medical Forces Pacific told the Union-Tribune that some of its crew previously were assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego, one of two local military facilities that is treating COVID-19 patients.

News of the positive case comes days after a sailor on the Comfort, Mercy’s sister ship, tested positive for COVID-19 Monday. Unlike the Mercy, the Comfort, which is in New York, is not requiring patients to test negative for COVID-19 before they are treated on the ship.

Navy ships create unique challenges for containing the spread of pathogens due to the close quarters in which crew eat, sleep and work.

The Mercy has a medical crew of 800 and a smaller civilian crew that maintains the vessel’s shipboard systems.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune