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Boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes sees first COVID-19 death

Great Lakes is the home of the United States Navy's only boot camp, located near North Chicago, in Lake County, Ill. (Dreamstime/TNS)
February 07, 2021

The boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago saw its first COVID-19 fatality this week when an instructor died from causes related to the virus.

Chief Quartermaster Herbert Rojas, 50, of Richmond Hill, N.Y., died Tuesday, according to Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Chitty, a public affairs officer at Naval Service Training Command.

Rojas entered the service in 2001 and served on numerous vessels before becoming a Great Lakes instructor in 2018. His job was to give recruits a basic introduction to the Navy, Chitty said, covering the Uniform Code of Military Justice, equal opportunity and other subjects.

Chitty said Rojas did not show symptoms of the disease when he was chosen randomly for a test in a “sentinel” program meant to detect the virus. Chitty said he didn’t know how Rojas contracted COVID-19 and declined to say when the positive test was recorded.

Great Lakes saw another COVID-19 death early in the pandemic after a civilian worker at the Training Support Center, which offers post-recruit training, contracted the virus, base spokesman John Sheppard said.

There have been other COVID-19 cases at Great Lakes — Chitty declined to say how many — and the base does tracing investigations to determine who might have been in contact with that person. Those determined to have been at the highest level of exposure are quarantined for 14 says, he said.

The U.S. military has seen more than 145,000 COVID-19 cases — 30,000 of them from the Navy — since the start of the pandemic, according to the Pentagon. Twenty-one service members have died from causes related to the virus, as well as 166 civilian employees and 60 contractors.

Chitty said a vaccination program has begun at Great Lakes, with people over 65 and those with extenuating medical conditions first in line.

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