- 955 crew members of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt have now tested positive for the infectious disease
- The latest updates show a rise of 115 new cases of COVID-19 among those on board the warship since Friday, with all of its 4,983 crew members now tested
- One sailor is currently hospitalized, 14 have recovered and one has died
- USS Theodore Roosevelt made headlines when a letter written by it’s now ex-captain Brett Crozier leaked, urging officials to address the outbreak onboard
- Crozier was fired on April 2 by then acting-Navy secretary Thomas Modly
- Following pressure from top Navy officers to reverse the decision, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is said to be considering reinstating Crozier
Almost one in five crew members aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have now tested positive for coronavirus, as calls to reinstate the ship’s fired captain are being considered by the White House.
As of Tuesday morning, the latest updates from the Pentagon show a rise of 115 new positive cases of COVID-19 among those on board the warship since Friday, with all of its 4,983 crew members having now been tested.
Of the total cases, one sailor is currently hospitalized, 14 have recovered and one has died. Meanwhile, more than 4,200 Roosevelt crew members have been moved ashore into Guam and are going through quarantine.
USS Theodore Roosevelt made headlines last month when a letter written by it’s now ex-captain Brett Crozier leaked to the press, in which he urged senior military officials to take action to safeguard sailors aboard the vessel.
Crozier was controversially fired soon afterwards by then acting-Navy secretary Thomas Modly on April 2, but following pressure from top Navy officers, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is said to be considering reversing the decision.
The chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael M. Gilday, and the acting Navy secretary, James McPherson, pushed Esper to reinstate Crozier to his position Friday in a shock turnaround.
But Esper has not immediately accepted the recommendations and has instead asked for more time to review the decision.
When he will make a decision or whether the White House will get involved at all remains unclear. Esper had been expected to announce the results of the Navy’s investigation into the matter Friday afternoon.
But defense officials told CNN the press conference had been canceled and phone calls between top lawmakers, Esper and the Navy regarding the matter have now been postponed until next week.
Despite the current uncertainty, Esper has previously said he was open to the possibility of reinstating Crozier to his post.
‘It will come to me at some point in time. As I’m in the chain of command, I can’t comment on that further, but I got to keep an open mind with regard to everything,’ Esper told NBC News on April 17.
Esper was pushed on whether the decision to reinstate Crozier would mean that his firing was wrong in the first place but he refused to comment.
‘We’ve got to take this one step at a time, let the investigation within the navy conclude itself … and we’ll make very reasoned opinions and judgement as this progresses,’ he responded.
Crozier was said to have reached ‘breaking point’ when he broke protocol and sent the memo urging navy officials to respond more urgently to the coronavirus outbreak on board USS Theodore Roosevelt, seriously fearing for the lives of his crew members.
Having been warned by doctors that more than 50 sailors aboard the vessel would die without drastic intervention, Crozier pleaded with his superiors to evacuate the boat but they eschewed his appeals, believing the measure to be too drastic.
After four consecutive days of rebuttals from his superiors, on March 30, Crozier took matters into his own hands and composed an unclassified email to 20 Navy personnel in the Pacific, disclosing the desperate situation on board and asking for their help.
‘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,’ the Captain wrote in the leaked letter. ‘The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.’
Friends of Crozier said the 30-year veteran would have known sending the email would likely end his career, but he persevered regardless.
Both Gilday and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had advised Modly not to ax Crozier before an investigation was completed into the leaked memo.
But, according to officials, Modly made the rash decision to fire the captain because he thought it was what President Trump wanted.
Mody faced a backlash over his decision to oust the commander, with the move dividing the public, the military and politicians. Crozier, meanwhile, left the ship as a hero – with his crew cheering and giving him a raucous send-off in a video that went viral online.
The return of the popular captain would provide some much needed good news for the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt, after one of their shipmates, 41-year-old Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., died on April 13 after testing positive for coronavirus.
The Navy confirmed Thacker’s death last week, saying he died at the US Naval Hospital in Guam of COVID-19, as his wife flew 6,200 miles from her San Diego military base to be by his bedside in his final moments.
Thacker was the first active-duty military member to die of COVID-19.
He had tested positive for coronavirus on March 30 – the same day Crozier’s letter leaked – and was taken off the ship and placed in ‘isolation housing’ along with four other sailors at the Guam Navy hospital.
Crozier, 50, had also been reported to have coronavirus but is thought to be recovering on Guam. His interim replacement, Capt. Carlos Sardiello, had previously commanded the Roosevelt but could head to a new assignment if Crozier returns.
Meanwhile, most Roosevelt sailors are wrapping up weeks of quarantine as the ship prepares for its journey back to sea.
They’ve been prohibited from posting details about their confinement, but some sailors and their family members have talked freely about their quarantine in gyms, hotel rooms and other facilities around the island.
Sailors positive with COVID-19 were put in gyms lined with cots, and they are checked by medical staff twice a day. Others are in hotel rooms set aside for the Navy, and public access is restricted.
Internet access in some places can be spotty, and food was limited early on but has improved. Sailors read, watch movies and can walk around outside, as long as they stay within quarantine zones. They were also able to communicate with one another on a private Facebook page.
Sailors must have two successive negative tests before they are considered virus-free. Only then could they begin moving back to the ship.
The crew still aboard the vessel have been conducting a deep clean of the ship. They will go ashore for quarantine when the first wave of sailors currently isolating return.
U.S. officials won’t say how long it will take for the ship to return to duty, but it has been docked in Guam for about a month, and could be there another three to four weeks.
Only when the ship is deemed virus free, can it then head back to sea. In order to do so, the ship will also have to go through a regimented recertification process.
The flight deck – from the pilots to the crews and the system operators – has to be recertified. Pilots will have to log flight hours and conduct a certain number of take-offs and landings from the carrier. Crews on the flight deck who direct the air traffic and those who operate the sensors and radars have to ensure everything runs right. Those checks could take several days.
The biggest question is where will the Roosevelt go. Originally it was slated to be at sea for months, then participate in a large Pacific naval exercise before heading home to San Diego.
Now Navy leaders have to decide whether to just send the beleaguered crew home or make up for the lost time in Guam. The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group based in Japan could get underway in coming weeks, as could the USS Nimitz, based in Bremerton, Washington.
The Nimitz pulled out for routine pre-deployment exercises Monday and likely will be out training for about a month.
While the Navy continues to grapple to get the outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt under control, another is bubbling up on a separate destroyer.
As of Monday, 47 sailors on the USS Kidd have tested positive for coronavirus. Two were evacuated to the U.S. and another 15 with symptoms were transferred to another ship for monitoring.
The Kidd, a naval destroyer that had been doing counter-drug operations off South America, is heading to port in San Diego.
The ship has a crew of about 350, and about 45 percent have been tested for the virus so far.
Executive officer Cmdr. Matt Noland wrote in a post to the ship’s Facebook page: ‘I am an optimist, but make no mistake. KIDD is in a fight right now, against COVID and against anyone out there who might want to capitalize on what they perceive as a weakness.’
He continued: ‘Destroyers are tough ships that breed tough Sailors. Warfighters. We’ve got this.’