Saturday morning began with the announcement that a U.S. Navy sailor in Italy had tested positive for the newest strain of coronavirus and it ended with a Pentagon evening alert that a Marine in Virginia also had contracted the potentially deadly virus, the first known service member with COVID-19 in the continental United States.
Between the announcements came a mission launched by the Coast Guard to rescue an elderly patient — who isn’t sick with coronavirus — from a quarantined cruise ship off California.
Sent shortly before 8 p.m. from the Pentagon, the brief email message indicated that a Marine assigned to Virginia’s Fort Belvoir had tested positive for COVID-19 and is being treated at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. He recently returned from an unspecified destination overseas where he was on official business, the message stated.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper had been briefed and the White House notified of the latest case.
“The information in the release is what is being provided at this time,” a Pentagon duty officer said after being contacted by Navy Times.
Fort Belvoir Community Hospital’s official social media accounts confirmed late Saturday that health workers there had sent the Marine’s preliminary test results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for final confirmation.
Assuring the public that hospital staffers have expertise in infectious diseases and are well equipped to deal with coronavirus cases, the officials indicated that they also are coordinating with Virginia’s Department of Public Health and the CDC.
“The protection of our staff, patients, beneficiaries and visitors is paramount,” the message stated. “We have identified isolation rooms to ensure patients are away from others who are receiving care.”
On Friday, a U.S. Navy sailor at Naval Support Activity Naples tested positive for the disease, becoming the first COVID-19 case of an American service member in Europe.
The sailor is restricted to his or her residence and will continue to receive care prescribed by the CDC and Italian health agencies, officials said.
Those who are suspected of having been in close contact with the unidentified sailor also have been notified and are in self-isolation at their residences, according to a prepared statement released Saturday by U.S. European Command.
It remains unclear how many sailors and their families have been affected by the coronavirus case there and officials have not disclosed the severity of the illness for the infected sailor.
Italy’s coronavirus outbreak has been concentrated in the northern region of Lombardy, more than 480 miles north of Naples.
For additional information, Pentagon officials referred Navy Times to EUCOM in Germany, which did not return messages.
In the meantime, military health workers are conducting what European Command officials in their prepared statement called a “thorough contact investigation” to locate any other personnel who might have been exposed to the potentially lethal virus.
“Depending on the results of that investigation, additional precautionary measures may be taken,” the statement indicated.
EUCOM officials say that they are coordinating with the U.S. Embassy, Italian authorities and public health experts to ensure the health of both American service members, their families and the local population.
In Italy, Civil Protection Agency officials announced that the death toll from the new strain of coronavirus there has risen to 197 following the largest hike in fatalities there since the global outbreak began.
It’s the most deaths in any nation except China, where the virus emerged in the city of Wuhan in December.
Italian authorities say that they are tracking more than 4,600 reported cases. Globally, the World Health Organization say the coronavirus has sickened more than 101,000 people, killing more than 3,000, mostly in China.
U.S. Forces Korea on Sunday said the Army has stopped moving all soldiers and their families to and from South Korea because of COVID-19 concerns. The order also applies to soldiers scheduled to attend professional military education in the United States. The orders are in effect until May 6 or until further notice.
Following the coronavirus infection of a U.S. Army soldier in South Korea, on Feb. 26 U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John C. “Lung” Aquilino directed all vessels visiting nations in the 7th Fleet area of operations “to remain at sea for at least 14 days before pulling into another port in order to monitor sailors for any symptoms" of COVID-19.
The measure was taken to prevent the spread of the disease to both the U.S. military and populations in the ports that personnel visit.
California health authorities are forcing similar precautions on the Grand Princess.
The ocean liner has been barred from docking in San Francisco after reporting one death amid about 20 coronavirus cases that broke out on board the ship during a previous voyage.
It remains anchored about 50 miles offshore while California officials consult with Vice President Mike Pence — who was in Florida meeting with cruise line executives — about potentially moving the vessel to a federal pier.
Coast Guard Sector San Francisco officials told Navy Times that on Saturday morning they medevaced a Grand Princess passenger with an illness unrelated to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Notified by the ship’s captain that a woman reported to be in her mid-70s needed treatment, watchstanders consulted with the duty flight surgeon and CDC experts, who recommended that she be evacuated from the ocean liner.
According to a statement emailed to Navy Times, the crew of the cutter Tern transported the patient and her husband to awaiting paramedics and CDC personnel at Coast Guard Sector San Francisco on Yerba Buena Island.
She was last reported to be in stable condition.
It was the second mission in as many days for the Coast Guard. On Friday evening, an Air Station San Francisco MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew delivered face masks and other protective gear provided by Princess Cruises to the liner.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.