By Jacob Nakamura
(Tumon, Guam) The United States Navy is doing what it can to contain the spread of infection within and onto the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, which docked in Guam this morning.
The Roosevelt is an aircraft carrier with 5,000 sailors onboard. It left its home port in San Diego in January for a forward deployment to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, stopping by Guam on February 7 for a port visit, and recently came from Vietnam. Everyone on the ship will be tested.
Like the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which racked up 712 confirmed COVID-19 cases because of the difficulty in containing the viral spread on a ship, there is the risk that this virus will spread quicker than it already has. Two days ago the count of confirmed COVID-19 cases among the sailors was four; yesterday eight; this morning; 23.
Unlike the Diamond Princess, people leave and arrive on the Roosevelt all the time - to places throughout the globe. Aircraft carriers literally are airfields in the middle of the ocean, where planes can land and take off from the deck. The Navy positions these ocean-faring airfields in places throughout the world to carry out the military's mission to defend the country and its allies.
And that's why the Navy has decided to lockdown the Roosevelt and contain the movement of its personnel to the pier at Apra Harbor.
"For the health and safety of the crew and the local community, Sailors will be limited to the pier, and no other personnel will be allowed to access the pier," said U.S. Pacific Fleet Command spokesman Dave Werner.
Admiral Michael Gilday released the following statement this morning (ChST):
"As testing continues, additional positive cases of COVID-19 have been discovered aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt. We are taking this threat very seriously and are working quickly to identify and isolate positive cases while preventing further spread of the virus aboard the ship. No Sailors have been hospitalized or are seriously ill.
"Our medical team aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt is performing testing for the crew consistent with CDC guidelines, and we are working to increase the rate of testing as much as possible. Immediate priority will be symptomatic Sailors, those in close contact with Sailors who have tested positive already, and essential watch standers. We are isolating those who test positive. Testing will continue as necessary to ensure the health of the entire ship's crew. In addition, the medical staff will continue to actively monitor the health of the crew. Deep cleaning of the ship's spaces is also ongoing.
"USS Theodore Roosevelt is in Guam on a previously-scheduled port visit. The resources at our naval medical facilities in Guam will allow us to more effectively test, isolate, and if necessary treat Sailors. We expect additional positive tests, and those Sailors who test positive will be transported to the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam for further evaluation and treatment as necessary. During the port visit, base access will be limited to the pier for Roosevelt's Sailors. No base or regional personnel will access the pier.
"We're taking this day by day. Our top two priorities are taking care of our people and maintaining mission readiness. Both of those go hand in glove.
"We are confident that our aggressive response will keep USS Theodore Roosevelt able to respond to any crisis in the region."
The Pentagon will be limiting its reporting of infections to broad strokes, because the U.S. military is concerned that the country's enemies could take advantage of the crippling effect of COVID-19 infections on commands throughout the world, especially in trouble spots.
According to a report by Reuters:
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined the plan in an interview with Reuters, saying that he wanted the military to keep providing broader data about infections in the armed forces, which rose by 30 percent to 227 cases on Wednesday.
But Esper, a former Army secretary, said he wanted some of the more mission-specific information to be withheld to prevent compromising operational security.
“What we want to do is give you aggregated numbers. But we’re not going to disaggregate numbers because it could reveal information about where we may be affected at a higher rate than maybe some other places,” Esper said, without disclosing precisely what information would be withheld or when the plan would be implemented.
Such a decision could upend expectations about the kind of disclosure about coronavirus fallout the public can expect from the military, which has a small number of infections relative to an overall forces of well over 1 million active duty troops.