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Navy to evacuate 2,700 sailors from carrier over ‘next couple days’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Navy is preparing to evacuate thousands of sailors off of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt within days to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

“We already have nearly 1,000 personnel off the ship right now,” Modly told reporters Wednesday.

"In the next couple days, we expect to have about 2,700 of them off the ship. One thing I want to emphasize as well is that we cannot and will not remove all the sailors from the ship.”

The decision to evacuate the sailors follows a plea from the commanding officer of the Roosevelt for the Navy to remove sailors from the ship and place them in individual quarantine spaces.

In response, Modly said the Navy is examining sites in Guam — including those that don’t belong to the Navy or the Department of Defense — to properly accommodate the sailors. For example, the service is in discussion with Guam’s governor to see if hotel space could be used to house some of the sailors, he said.

The Navy first announced on March 24 that three sailors aboard the carrier had tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the service to subsequently order the carrier to pull into port in Guam.

Since then, COVID-19 cases aboard the vessel have increased exponentially.

According to Modly, 93 sailors aboard the Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus, while 593 have tested negative. More than 1,200 crew members aboard the ship have been tested, but the Navy is awaiting results for some of those tests, he said.

It’s unclear how long the Roosevelt will remain in port in Guam to ensure the crew is not infected with COVID-19.

“It won’t be resolved in the next couple days,” Modly said. “It will take some time.”

In a letter first obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, commanding officer of the Roosevelt Capt. Brett Crozier urged the Navy to provide individualized isolation for the ship’s crew as COVID-19 cases aboard the vessel increase.

Crozier noted that a small portion of the crew had been removed from the ship into group quarantine sites in Guam, but only one of the locations complied with NAVADMIN guidance.

Crozier proposed keeping approximately 10 percent of the Roosevelt crew on the ship to operate the reactor plant and perform sanitization, among other things. That way, remaining crew members could be off the ship and individually isolated in Guam.

In response, Modly said that the Navy is ramping up testing and conducting thorough cleaning of the ship to try to accommodate Crozier’s request and “accelerate the pace wherever we can.”

Furthermore, Modly said Crozier took the correct actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by alerting Navy leadership.

“Let me emphasize that this is exactly what we want our commanding officers, our medical teams to do,” Modly said.

“We need a lot of transparency in this process, and we want that information to flow up through the chain of command, and that’s what they did.”

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