The Navy should bring all its ships into port and quarantine the majority of the crews while the vessels undergo a deep clean — or else face a COVID-19 outbreak similar to the one aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said.
Mabus, who appeared on a Pod Save the World podcast episode Wednesday, argued that the Navy should follow the suggestions of Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the Roosevelt who was relieved of duty after he urged the service to ramp up its response to the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the 4,800-person ship.
The Big Stick isn’t the only ship that should take such an approach, according to Mabus.
“What I think what they need to do, is bring every ship in,” said Mabus, who served as secretary of the Navy from 2009 to 2017. “Offload most of the crew ... leave a very skeletal force on board, sanitize the ship, quarantine people for two weeks, make sure nobody’s got COVID.
“And then once they go back on that ship ... they don’t get off the ship ... until this crisis is mitigated,” Mabus said.
Mabus acknowledged the difficulties of keeping sailors aboard a carrier, particularly during port visits, but predicted another COVID-19 outbreak would hit more Navy vessels without such measures in place.
“But if we don’t do that, I think you’re going to see the situation that played out on the Roosevelt play out over and over again,” Mabus said. “Not just on those big ships, but virtually every ship that we have in the Navy.”
Before being relieved of his command, Crozier urged the Navy to relocate a majority of the ship’s crew and provide them with individualized quarantine. He said a fraction of the crew could remain on the carrier to operate the reactor plant and perform sanitization, among other things, while the rest isolated on shore in Guam, where the ship had pulled into port.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset: our Sailors,” Crozier wrote in a letter.
Since sidelining the Theodore Roosevelt in Guam, the Navy has evacuated approximately 85 percent of carrier’s crew, Navy Times previously reported.
Crozier was ousted after the letter was obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. According to then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, the letter was sent up Crozier’s immediate chain of command over a non-secure email, and was copied to 20 to 30 additional recipients.
While taking a pause to quarantine the crew and sanitize the ship would impact readiness in the short-term, failing to act now would significantly jeopardize long-term readiness, Mabus said.
“You gotta protect your people first,” he said. “There’s going to be a drop in readiness, but it will be for a little while. If we don’t do that pretty soon across the Navy, and across the military, we’re going to be down on readiness so much, for so long, it’s going to be a really, really serious problem.”
Navy officials said Tuesday that nearly 600 crew members aboard the Roosevelt had tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, the Navy said that a sailor from the ship died from complications stemming from coronavirus after he was admitted to the ICU at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam last week.
Since then, four more sailors have also been hospitalized, according to the Navy.
The Pentagon said Wednesday that 2,486 service members across all branches of the military have tested positive for COVID-19, as have 669 DoD civilians, 558 dependents and 298 contractors.