WASHINGTON — The Navy plans to evacuate most of the force from the USS Theodore Roosevelt — one of its premier front-line aircraft carriers — in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to its crew.
The unprecedented step – one week after the Pentagon downplayed the threat — underscores the uncertainty the military faces in fighting a foe it is neither equipped nor trained to battle.
‘One thing I want to emphasize as well is that we cannot and will not remove all the sailors from the ship,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.
So far, about 1,000 of the roughly 4,000 member crew are off the ship right now,” Modly said. “In the next couple days, we expect to have about 2,700 of them off the ship.”
The Navy first announced on March 24 that three sailors on the carrier had tested positive for COVID-19. That prompted the Navy to order the carrier to head to port in Guam earlier than planned.
The turnabout to remove most of the crew comes two days after the ships’s commander wrote a letter urging sailors to be placed in individual quarantine spaces to slow the spread of the virus.
As of Wednesday, 93 sailors aboard the ship have tested positive for the virus, while 593 have tested negative, Modley said. About 1,200 crew members aboard the ship have been tested, with results pending.
Pentagon officials have estimated it takes about 1,000 members of the Roosevelt crew to operate the reactor plant, perform sanitization, and safeguard equipment and weapons.
“I will tell you it won’t be resolved in the next couple of days. It will take some time but we’re still looking at that and trying to make an — get a good understanding of what that might impact with respect to operational readiness,” Modley told reporters.
“I would also like to emphasize that if a ship needs to go, if there’s a crisis, the ship can go,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why we’re maintaining the skills on the ship that we need in case we have to move it in — in the case of an emergency.”
Where the sailors will be quarantined remains an issue. Modly said the Navy is examining sites in Guam — including those that don’t belong to the Navy or the Department of Defense, such as hotels.