Hours after a leaked letter from the Commanding Officer of the embattled carrier Theodore Roosevelt pleading for more support from the Navy leaked to the public, the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet told reporters he is working as fast as he can to get a plan in place to rotate sailors off the ship.

In the letter, Capt. Brett Crozier said he needed to get the bulk of the crew off the ship and into quarantine on Guam, where the carrier pulled this weekend, arguing that it would be impossible to contain the spread otherwise.

“Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote in the letter. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

But in remarks Tuesday evening Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. John Aquilino told reporters on a conference call that he has to balance the security and safety of the carrier with measures to protect the crew.

“Some people want to compare a cruise liner to a ship, let me tell you there are no comparisons,” Aquilino said, making reference to the Diamond Princess cruise liner outbreak, an incident cited by Crozier in his letter. “There are requirements that I have to protect that ship. I need to be able to run the reactors, fight fires, do damage control, feed the crew that’s aboard: All those things are a requirement. And the team that’s aboard is working through how to do that while at the same time executing our approach to delivering fully healthy and COVID-free sailors.”

As for Crozier’s request to pull the bulk of the crew off the ship, Aquilino said the Navy is working the request, and is in contact with Guam’s local government to secure hotel rooms for sailors.

“We understand the request,” Aquilino said. "We’ve been working it in advance, we continue to work it, and I’m optimistic that the additional quarantine and isolation capacity being discussed will be delivered shortly.

“But there has never been an intent to take all the sailors off of that ship. If that ship needed to respond to a crisis today, it would respond.”

Of Crozier’s letter, Aquilino said he understood the CO’s concern “is associated with the pace that we get sailors off, not that we’re not going to get sailors off.”

The plan is to rotate sailors into quarantine facilities for 14 days with the aim of getting them back on the ship after they’ve tested virus free, he said.

“That is the best way, the most accurate way, to validate that a sailor does not have the disease," Aquilino said. "The flow plan allows us to take some number of sailors off – so I can get to some number that I would be comfortable with to do all the missions the ship needs – work the remaining sailors through this quarantine/isolation/test model, then clean the ship and put only healthy sailors back on.”

Of the sailors who have tested positive, they continue to exhibit only mild symptoms, Aquilino said.

“I have no sailors hospitalized, I have no sailors on ventilators, I have no sailors in critical condition, no sailors in an [intensive care unit] status on Theodore Roosevelt,” he said.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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