WASHINGTON — The commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of the largest aircraft carriers in the U.S. military, is pleading for “decisive action” to staunch the spread of COVID-19 through his ship.
“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,” Captain Brett Crozier, the ship’s commanding officer, wrote in a letter to superiors on Monday.
The letter was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and confirmed Tuesday by Pentagon officials.
There are about 4,000 crew members on the carrier, which sailed ahead of schedule to Guam after COVID-19 began rampaging through its decks.
Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. John Aquilino told Pentagon reporters Tuesday night that “we are welcoming feedback (and) we want to make sure we understand exactly what the leader on the ground needs.”
He also said that while some crew members are in various stages and being treated at various levels, none of the 200 or so sailors affected are hospitalized or on ventilators.
“There has never been intent to take all the sailors of that ship,” he said. “If we needed to respond to a crisis today, we would respond.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS he had not read the letter.
Last week the Pentagon reported three crew members has COVID-19 and were removed to the ship. They later said eight members and then more than two dozen. Various media reports have put the number in the hundreds.
Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on CNN he had heard about the letter on Tuesday morning. He said the Navy has been working for several days to get the sailors off ship in Guam but there were not did not enough beds.
“We don’t disagree with the (commanding officer) on that ship, and we’re doing it in a very methodical way because it’s not the same as a cruise ship … that ship has armaments on it, it has aircraft on it,” he said.
The Pentagon has stopped giving COVID-19 figures for individual units, bases, ships, and other distinctive elements to minimize strategic implications, Pentagon officials said on Monday.
At least two other ships have reported cases of COVID-19, officials told Talk Media News.
Aquilino said the Navy continues to search for how the virus got to crew members since everyone was screened after a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, in mid-March.
“Two days before the went into Vietnam, (there were) 16 cases, all in Hanoi (and Vietnam) not had a reported case in 20 days. Based on that information at that time, we made the decision to execute the port visit,” he said.
Pentagon officials have previously said the virus could have resulted from personnel in aircraft that regularly land on the ship, bringing in new people from outside the command.
“But I do not have that answer right now,” Aquilino said, regarding how COVID-19 made it onto the ship.