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Navy jet fighter squadron pulled off USS Gerald R. Ford after sailor tests positive for COVID-19

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford returns from sea and heads to Naval Station Norfolk on October 30, 2019. (Jonathon Gruenke / Daily Press/TNS)

Members of the “Fighting Blacklions” strike fighter squadron were removed from the USS Gerald R. Ford this week and placed into a “precautionary restriction of movement” after a sailor tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

A sailor assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 was confirmed to have the illness on Wednesday and remains in isolation, according to Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg with Naval Air Force Atlantic. The sailor was not on board the ship, but did have contact with other members of the squadron, Cragg said in an email.

The ship had embarked Tuesday as part of ongoing carrier qualifications. The following day, the sailors left the Ford and were put in the movement restriction until they complete additional medical screening and contact tracing, Cragg said. The aircraft carrier got underway from Naval Station Norfolk on Thursday.

“All VFA-213 sailors were medically screened prior to embarking USS Gerald R. Ford, and none of them exhibited any influenza-like illness symptoms,” Cragg wrote. “Due to USS Gerald R. Ford’s strict COVID-19 mitigation measures, the risk of exposure or transmission to additional personnel is believed to be low.”

The squadron is based out of Naval Air Station Oceana and flies F/A-18F Super Hornets.

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The Ford dealt with a similar situation earlier this month.

On May 4, a sailor assigned to the ship before it got underway tested positive for COVID-19. The sailor, who hadn’t been aboard since May 1, is thought to have contracted the virus from a visiting family member. The sailor was isolated at home.

At the time, Cragg said the Ford’s medical staff immediately decontaminated areas the sailor had visited. A small number of sailors who may have encountered the person were also put in precautionary quarantine and tested. All were cleared, she said.

The Navy has been the hardest hit by coronavirus of the nation’s military branches, with nearly 2,400 cases among its ranks. Many of those were aboard the deployed aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in Guam. A fifth of the ship’s crew tested positive for the virus, including several who were cleared to return after quarantine and then tested positive a second time. A chief petty officer died in April.

Earlier this week, the Navy unveiled its latest plans for deploying in the midst of the pandemic, including a host of medical screening and quarantine measures. They’re expected to be in place “for a lengthy period,” officials said in a Wednesday statement.

Testing is not a surefire way to prevent the virus from gaining traction on board, officials added, due to the potential for false negatives.

The Navy emphasized personal responsibility for personnel to wear face coverings, properly physical distance, self-monitor and wash their hands frequently while underway.

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© 2020 The Virginian-Pilot