Nearly 3,000 sailors aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier where the coronavirus has spread will be taken off the ship by Friday, Navy officials said Wednesday as they struggle to quarantine crew members in the face of an outbreak.
So far, fewer than 100 of the nearly 5,000 sailors assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, now docked in Guam, have tested positive for the virus, but the Navy is moving sailors into various facilities and probably will begin using hotel rooms in the coming days. Navy leaders are talking with government officials in the U.S. territory to identify rooms for the crew members.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, however, made it clear that while several thousand will leave the ship, other sailors will remain on board in order to continue to protect the ship and run critical systems.
“We cannot and will not remove all sailors from the ship,” Modly told Pentagon reporters. He said officials will send as many sailors off the ship as possible while still maintaining safety. He said about 1,000 have gone ashore, and that number will grow to at least 2,700 in a couple of days.
Modly and Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, declined to say how long the ship will be sidelined. But if crew members are required to be quarantined for 14 days, on a rotational basis, the Roosevelt could be out of duty for weeks.
The Navy leaders said that they are trying to track down any sailors who came in contact with those now ill and place them in quarantine. They said almost 1,300 sailors have been tested, and as of Wednesday, nearly 600 of those tests came back negative. Officials are awaiting more results and more testing.
The “long pole in the tent,” said Gilday, is getting results more quickly. At this point, no sailors with the virus are hospitalized.
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For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the carrier’s commander, raised warnings this week in a memo to his leaders. He said the ship was facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus and he asked permission to isolate the bulk of his crew members on shore, an extraordinary move to take a carrier out of duty in an effort to save lives.
The carrier, like other Navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters. The ship is more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) long. Sailors are spread out across a labyrinth of decks linked by steep ladder-like stairs and narrow corridors.
Enlisted sailors and officers have separate living areas, but most share rooms with multiple people, work in close quarters with other sailors, routinely grab their food from crowded buffet lines and eat at tables joined end to end.