Captain of aircraft carrier with growing coronavirus outbreak pleads for help from Navy Posted on 3/31/2020 at 20:29:36 by Will Croom
The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than 100 sailors infected with the coronavirus pleaded Monday with U.S. Navy officials for resources to allow isolation of his entire crew and avoid possible deaths in a situation he described as quickly deteriorating.
The unusual plea from Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, came in a letter obtained exclusively by The Chronicle and confirmed by a senior officer on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam following a COVID-19 outbreak among the crew of more than 4,000 less than a week ago.
“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “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.”
In the four-page letter to senior military officials, Crozier said only a small contingent of infected sailors have been off-boarded. Most of the crew remain aboard the ship, where following official guidelines for 14-day quarantines and social distancing is impossible.
“Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” Crozier wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”
He asked for “compliant quarantine rooms” on shore in Guam for his entire crew “as soon as possible.”
“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. ... This is a necessary risk,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”
The Navy did not respond to The Chronicle’s requests for comment Monday, but on Tuesday morning as the news spread, the Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly spoke to CNN.
“I heard about the letter from Capt. Crozier (Tuesday) morning, I know that our command organization has been aware of this for about 24 hours and we have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam. The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities,” Modly said.
“We don’t disagree with the (captain) 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, we have to be able to fight fires if there are fires on board the ship, we have to run a nuclear power plant, so there’s a lot of things that we have to do on that ship that make it a little bit different and unique but we’re managing it and we’re working through it,” he said.
“We’re very engaged in this, we’re very concerned about it and we’re taking all the appropriate steps,” Modly said.
So far, none of the infected sailors has shown serious symptoms, but the number of those who have tested positive has jumped exponentially since the Navy reported infections in three crew members on March 24, the first time COVID-19 infections had been detected on a naval vessel at sea.
Senior military officials said last week that the entire crew of more than 4,000 will be tested. The carrier’s home port is San Diego.
At the time, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly expressed confidence that they identified all the sailors who had been in contact with the trio of infected sailors and they had been quarantined.
“This is an example of how we are able to keep our ships deployed at seas and underway, even with active COVID-19 cases,” Modly said.
But by the time the ship reached port in Guam on Friday, the number of cases had grown to 25, and soon after to 36, according to reports.
Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday responded to the increasing numbers late last week by saying the Navy was taking “this threat very seriously” and working to isolate positive cases to halt the spread. He promised to increase the rate of testing and to isolate infected sailors. He stressed that the top two priorities were caring for their sailors and maintaining “mission readiness.” Replies: