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Pentagon watchdog to probe Navy’s handling of COVID-19 on ships and subs

The U.S. Defense Department’s Inspector General will begin looking into how the Navy has prevented and mitigated COVID-19 outbreaks on the service’s ships and submarines.

The evaluation will also determine whether measures to prevent the novel coronavirus’ spread have been implemented across the fleet, according to an IG memo sent to the Navy’s auditor general on Monday.

Monday’s news follows a similar announcement on May 4 that the IG will probe whether proper screening and quarantine procedures have been implemented for personnel entering Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Navy representatives declined to comment Monday.

IG spokeswoman Dwrena Allen said this Navy evaluation, which will be similar to an audit, is part of the office’s “fraud, waste and abuse risk management and oversight” of the Defense Department’s COVID-19 response.

“It is a self-initiated project based on risks that we have identified during the ongoing pandemic,” she said, adding that there is no timeline for the evaluation’s completion.

The IG’s evaluation will involve the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet, with interviews being conducted via video and teleconference, according to the announcement.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday is in quarantine this week after interacting with a family member who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

While the Navy — and Defense Department in general — is not providing specifics regarding unit-level outbreaks of COVID-19, the sea service has grappled with a surge of cases aboard at least two vessels, the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the destroyer Kidd.

The Navy announced April 30 that it would stop providing daily case counts for TR and Kidd.

Cases aboard the carrier totaled 1,159 that day, with 78 cases aboard the destroyer.

The TR outbreak sidelined the carrier in Guam on March 27, and led to the firing of its commanding officer and the resignation of Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly last month.

There have been 2,162 COVID-19 cases in the Navy’s ranks as of Monday afternoon, according to the Navy.

Of those, 769 have recovered, eight sailors remain hospitalized and one has died.

In order to prevent similar outbreaks, sailors assigned to submarines and the surface fleet are undergoing movement restrictions for several weeks before getting underway as part of an effort to ensconce the crews in a non-COVID bubble.

The Japan-based carrier Ronald Reagan got underway for sea trials last week as it ramps up preparations for an upcoming deployment.

Sailors underwent phases of quarantine prior to embarking and have been told that liberty calls have been canceled for the upcoming deployment, meaning most of the crew will not be allowed to disembark in port during the float.

Similar precautions are being taken aboard submarines. There have been no active cases on deployed or underway boats thus far, Adm. Phillip Sawyer, the vice chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, said last week.

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