The Navy has deployed several medical teams and is now conducting laboratory batch testing for COVID-19 aboard three 7th Fleet ships: aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, amphibious assault ship America, and the 7th Fleet’s flagship, amphibious command ship Blue Ridge.
The medical teams, members of the Navy Forward-Deployed Preventive Medicine Units and Naval Medical Research Center, embarked the ships on March 14 to test groups of sailors exhibiting symptoms of influenza. This is designed to detect any presence of COVID-19 aboard the vessels and eliminate the need to send samples to shore, the Navy said.
“This is the most advanced laboratory capability that Navy Medicine has placed forward deployed,” Lt. Cmdr. Danett Bishop, leader and microbiologist for the preventative medicine team aboard America, said in a Navy news release Sunday. “We can make force health decisions in real time, enhancing the health of the crew while minimizing any potential outbreak of COVID-19.”
Sailors will not be individually tested, since the batch testing places a group of samples through one test.
In the event a group tested positive for COVID-19, the Navy said that it would take precautionary measures including isolating sailors who were among the batch, or medically evacuating them so they can receive additional testing at a shore facility.
“Since we are performing surveillance testing, the results of COVID-19 present, or not present can help inform the force health protection posture and provide valuable insight for the senior medical officer and outbreak response team,” Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Pavlicek, Blue Ridge COVID-19 testing team lead, said in a Navy news release.
The Navy said the teams embarked to the 7th Fleet ships could include a microbiologist, medical laboratory technician, preventive medicine officer, and a preventive medicine technician.
So far, the Navy reports that no personnel aboard any ships belonging to the 7th have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“The team here in 7th Fleet has taken COVID-19 seriously from the beginning and has many public health measures already in place,” said Capt. Christine Sears, U.S. 7th Fleet surgeon. “The [Forward-Deployed Preventive Medicine Units] and [Naval Medical Research Center] augmentation teams provide additional depth in our ability to combat this virus.”
The 7th Fleet is based in Yokosuka, Japan and is the largest of the Navy’s forward deployed fleets. Its area of operation covers 36 countries including China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea.
In response to the spread of COVID-19, the Navy is instructing commands to “remain out of congregate settings, avoid mass gatherings and maintain six feet or two-meter distance from others when possible,” according to U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson Lt. James Adams.
More than 120 service members have contracted COVID-19 as of Monday.