Fleet of US aircraft carriers hit by growing number of COVID-19 cases: NPR

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Three US aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt (top left) USS Ronald Reagan (top center) and USS Nimitz (top right) participate in exercises with the South Korean forces in 2017.

South Korean Ministry of Defense via AP

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South Korean Ministry of Defense via AP

Three US aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt (top left) USS Ronald Reagan (top center) and USS Nimitz (top right) participate in exercises with the South Korean forces in 2017.

South Korean Ministry of Defense via AP

Amid growing concerns over military readiness, a sailor from the US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, away from the coronaviruses, became the first crew member to be hospitalized in intensive care in Guam on Thursday. He is one of more than 400 sailors on the ship who tested positive for COVID-19.

“I guess basically, I was hoping we were never going to get to the point. I was hoping that the numbers would be blank by the end of this, “said General John Hyten, vice-president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the sick sailor at a Pentagon press conference on Thursday. “But it just won’t be the case with coronavirus. “

Hyten said almost all of Roosevelt’s crew (4,865 people now tested), 416 (positive) – almost 9% – and 3,170 (negative), while results for 1,164 others were still expected . Among the positive tests, he said that 229 – more than half – had no symptoms of the disease.

Following the release to the press of a passionate call to his superiors for a faster response, the Roosevelt’s captain, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of his command last week by the Secretary of the Navy by acting at the time, Thomas Modly. The navy’s top civilian resigned in turn on Tuesday after comments he made that “naive” and “stupid” Crozier became public and were widely criticized.

Although Crozier requested the withdrawal of 90% of the Roosevelt crew, only 2,700 sailors – 56% – had disembarked from the ship in Guam on Thursday. Navy officials said other crew members were needed on board to maintain the Roosevelt’s two nuclear reactors and disinfect its cramped living quarters.

With 11 aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy fleet, the Roosevelt is one of three whose crew members are believed to have been infected with the coronavirus. The only other American aircraft carrier currently in the Western Pacific – where the United States uses such ships to project military power and counter potential hostilities from China or North Korea – is the USS Ronald Reagan, docked at Yokosuka, Japan.

Although the Pentagon stopped identifying the locations of active duty members infected with the coronavirus late last month, crew members reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 on the Ronald Reagan as well as on the USS Nimitz . This aircraft carrier – the oldest in the fleet – is currently docked in Bremerton, Washington, and its deployment to the Pacific has been delayed by approximately two weeks of its crew.

Hyten acknowledged that many of the crew of the Nimitz remained on board the aircraft carrier. “They were sort of, I would say, isolated on the ship, preparing to leave, and there has been a very small number of breakthroughs on the Nimitz and we are watching this very closely before the Nimitz goes out “, he said. “But it’s not a huge breakthrough; it’s not a big pic at this point. There was a physical separation of the sailors on this ship. “

A spokesperson for the U.S. 3rd Fleet later disputed Hyten’s description of the health conditions on the Nimitz, telling the Kitsap Sun that a symptomless sailor had been sidelined as a precaution and that ” a virus test had been carried out. “Not conclusive. “

“The seafarers who had been in close contact with the individual were also removed from the vessel as a precaution and placed in quarantine,” said Cmdr. John Fage reportedly told the local newspaper. “This sailor stays out of the ship. “

Hyten said the Pentagon was still trying to figure out how to quarantine ships with large crews before setting sail.

“It is not a good idea to think that the Teddy Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind problem,” said Hyten, the Pentagon’s number two in uniform. “We have too many ships at sea. We have too many deployed capabilities. There are 5,000 sailors on a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Thinking that it won’t happen again is not a good way to plan. “

A constant concern of the Navy is the possibility of coronavirus infection during calls to port by deployed US warships, such as the one the Roosevelt made in Da Nang, Vietnam, last month.

The only US aircraft carrier currently deployed in the Middle East is the USS Eisenhower, which left its home port of Norfolk on January 17. During the next 12 weeks, the vessel made no calls.

Pentagon officials insist that despite orders to halt the movement of military personnel, suspended training exercises and the lack of new recruits dispatched to training camp, general readiness Army personnel have not been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“To those who wish us harm, make no mistake: even with the challenges that this disease has placed on our shores, the Ministry of Defense is ready to face any threat and defend our nation,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense David Norquist. Pentagon Thursday. “If our opponents think this is our moment of weakness, they are dangerously wrong.”

Hyten, for his part, was cautious.

“The Theodore Roosevelt would have left his stopover in Guam and will have left for the sea now according to the normal schedule,” he noted, “so there is a degradation [of readiness] over there in the Pacific, so we have to watch this very closely. “

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