CVN 71 Commander Requests Crew Quarantine Ashore

USS Theodore Roosevelt
Credit: USN

The commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) has asked the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet to remove his 4,000-member crew from the aircraft carrier and send the sailors into quarantine on Guam as the novel coronavirus continues to spread on the ship.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told CNN he does not “disagree” with the captain.

Guam does not have enough beds to accommodate the sailors, and Modly told CNN on March 31 that the service is asking the government for hotel rooms. According to the Guam Visitors Bureau, the island has 8,860 hotel rooms.

Last week, the Roosevelt pulled into Guam during a deployment because of a growing outbreak of COVID-19 among sailors. On March 30, Capt. Brett Crozier, Roosevelt’s commander, asked Pacific Fleet for more resources to effectively isolate crewmembers and fight the virus. The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the contents of the letter on March 30.

“No one on the crew will be allowed to leave anywhere into Guam other than on pierside,” Modly said March 24.

Crewmembers have remained isolated to the pier so they will not infect the local population. But Crozier said tight quarters on the carrier have made it impossible to isolate them.

“Testing has no direct influence on the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It merely confirms the presence of the virus. Due to the close quarters required on a warship and the current number of positive cases, every single Sailor, regardless of rank, onboard the TR must be considered ‘close contact’ in accordance with the [Navy guidance],” Crozier wrote. “Testing will only be useful as the ship returns to work after isolation or quarantine to confirm the effectiveness of the quarantine period. Our focus now must be on quarantine and isolation in strict compliance with CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [Navy] guidance.”

Crozier presents two vignettes in his letter, the first in which the 4,000 sailors on the carrier would remain at sea, fight sick and suffer losses from the virus. It is unclear how many sailors are infected, with reports ranging from 30-100.

“We go to war with the force we have and fight sick. We never achieve a COVID-free TR,” Crozier wrote.

The second scenario is pausing carrier operations, quarantining sailors and disinfecting the ship with a skeleton crew aboard to maintain the nuclear reactor and essential systems.

“Based on CDC guideline and TR observations, the only effective method to preserve an individual’s health is total isolation for 14+ days in accordance with the NAVADMIN (i.e. individual hotel/barracks rooms with separate heads). Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this. The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Crozier wrote.

The Roosevelt only hosts a handful of senior officer staterooms, and none of the other berthing is appropriate for quarantine or isolation. Crozier began moving personnel off the ship to “shore-based restricted movement locations,” and only one of those facilities complies with Navy guidance, he wrote.

“Two sailors have already tested positive in an open bay gymnasium equipped with cots. Although marginally better than a warship, group quarantine sites are not a solution and are not in accordance with current guidance,” Crozier wrote.

Crozier noted that without altering course, the Roosevelt may experience a similar fate as the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing properly to take care of our most trusted asset—our sailors,” Crozier wrote.

Lee Hudson

Based in Washington, Lee covers the Pentagon for Aviation Week. Prior to joining Aviation Week in June 2018, Lee was at Inside Defense where she was managing editor for Inside the Navy.