Three Navy sailors tested positive for the coronavirus while they were aboard an aircraft carrier operating in the Pacific. It’s the first such incident aboard a deployed warship, authorities said Tuesday.
The sailors, who have not been identified, are assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier based in San Diego.
“Those individuals have been quarantined and are being flown off the ship,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon.
Navy officials have tracked down anyone aboard the ship who had been in contact with the three exposed sailors. They also are being quarantined, but aboard the ship.
“This is an example of our ability to keep our ships deployed at sea underway even with active COVID-19 cases,” Mr. Modly said.
Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, declined to specify where the exposed sailors would be sent beyond a Defense Department hospital in the Pacific region.
“We’re taking this day-by-day and we’re being very deliberate how we’re doing it,” Adm. Gilday said. “The commander of the ship right now is doing the best he can to isolate those persons that came in contact with” the exposed sailors.
The Navy is investigating how the exposed sailors came in contact with the COVID-19 virus. The ship, which has a crew of about 5,000, made a port visit to Danang, Vietnam, about two weeks ago but Adm. Gilday said it would be difficult to identify that stop as the culprit.
“We took great precautions when the crew came back from that,” Adm. Gilday said. “We’ve had aircraft flying to and from the ship.”
The USS Theodore Roosevelt conducted a 14-day isolation period following the port visit to Danang. The carrier also has the capability to both test for standard influenza and take swabs for possible COVID-19 exposure and send it off for lab work, officials said.
While Navy officials can’t confirm the sailors were exposed to the coronavirus during their liberty in Danang, port visits have largely been cancelled.
The only exception is when ships are required to make a port visit for supply or maintenance issues. Even then, the crew is restricted to the dock area, officials said.
The Navy has confirmed 86 cases of coronavirus in the ranks - 57 of them active duty service members and the rest a combination of dependents, civilian employees and contractors, officials said.
The ballistic-missile submarine force — one leg of the nation’s nuclear triad — are a particular interest for Navy officials.
These nuclear-powered and -armed submarines stay hidden during their entire patrol period, which usually lasts about two months.
The crew of a “boomer” submarine is required to spend 14 days in isolation before their regular patrol begins. That began as a result of the coronavirus, Adm. Gilday said.