Coronavirus Outbreak Sidelines Aircraft Carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt
THE PENTAGON – A Navy aircraft carrier in the Pacific is being sidelined after three COVID-19 cases in the crew has turned into at least eight, forcing the ship to pull into Guam while the entire crew is tested to figure out the extent of the outbreak.
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) had been operating in the Philippine Sea when three sailors had to be flown off the ship to a Defense Department facility in Guam after testing positive for COVID-19, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told reporters on Tuesday.
Today, Modly said in a Pentagon press briefing that five more sailors had since tested positive and were being flown off the ship, and that the ship and its crew off 5,000 was heading to Guam to figure out the next steps.
“We found several more cases onboard the ship. We are in the process now of testing 100 percent of the crew of that ship to ensure that we are able to contain whatever spread might have occurred there on the ship. But I also want to emphasize that the ship is operationally capable to do its mission if required to do so,” he said.
“The ship is pulling into Guam; it will be pierside, no one on the crew will be allowed to leave anywhere into Guam other than on pierside. And we are already starting the process of testing 100 percent of the crew to ensure that we’ve got that contained.
“The sailors who have been flown off the ship are currently doing fine. None of them have been required to be hospitalized because their symptoms are very mild – aches and pains and those types of things, sore throats, but nothing that requires hospitalization. They are in quarantine now on Guam,” Modly continued.
The Navy’s aircraft carriers and some other larger ships have medical capabilities sophisticated enough to process tests aboard, though the daily throughput of these labs is limited. Modly called the capacity the “limiting factor” for testing and said “we are looking at ways now to not only maximize that capacity on the ship to test but also to send some of those swab tests out to some of the other DoD labs for testing.”
There are two different kinds of tests the Navy can perform. To positively diagnose a patient with COVID-19, a nasal swab must be performed and tested, but the testing kits have been available in limited quantities for hospitals around the country dealing with the outbreak. It is unclear how many of these COVID-19-specific kits the Navy has access to. The Navy can also conduct surveillance testing, where a sample is tested for a range of flu-like viruses to rule in or out different diseases; this type of testing can help medical officers understand who has been exposed to what onboard a ship and could narrow down who may need the COVID-specific test kit.
Rear Adm. James Hancock, medical officer of the Marine Corps, said during the press briefing that the military was working with industry to get point-of-care COVID-19 testing capability, but “we’re just not there yet. What we can do is do surveillance testing, so we do it across the ship so we know that.”
Modly said the testing on TR would be a combination of swab and surveillance testing to whatever extent was available.
“The ship is going to be pulling into Guam, and then they’re going to figure out from there who needs to come off, who can stay on, looking at the level of symptoms and things like that,” he said about the next steps for the carrier.