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USS Roosevelt Returns To Sea More After 2 Months Of Battling Coronavirus

U.S. Navy Capt. Carlos Sardiello on the bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Th...

Credit: U.S. Navy

Above: U.S. Navy Capt. Carlos Sardiello on the bridge of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, June 4, 2020.

The USS Roosevelt is returning to the sea this week, more than two months after the San Diego-based aircraft carrier became the center of the Navy’s largest outbreak of COVID-19.

Capt. Carlos Sardiello took over the Roosevelt after now-former acting Navy Secretary Tomas Modly fired the former captain. Brett Crozier wrote a letter urging the Navy to take stronger action to control an outbreak onboard the ship, which became public. Crozier is in San Diego while Adm. Mike Gilday reviews a report on the Navy’s handling of the outbreak.

“The investigation is with the Chief of the Naval Operations office and I will continue to be commanding officer until I’m directed otherwise,” Sardiello said.

In the meantime, the Roosevelt continues to write the book on the Navy’s response to COVID-19. There were 1,102 cases among the crew of nearly 5,000 sailors. Sailors are required to test negative twice before being allowed back on the carrier. Pointing to just how little is known about aspects of the virus, during the middle of May, 13 sailors tested positive after being cleared to return to the Roosevelt.

“What we’re finding is the virus can be detectable for a long period of time. Way past when the CDC and science efforts around the world that the infectious period is long past,” Sardiello said.

The carrier leaves Guam with a binder of new procedures, many of them developed through trial and error as the Navy struggled to contain the outbreak onboard the Roosevelt. Sailors are in masks. They are taking shifts in the galley of the aircraft carrier. They are receiving medical screenings for symptoms, but the carrier is not testing the entire crew for the virus, though the carrier has the capacity, Sardiello said.

A portion of the crew routinely rotates on and off an aircraft carrier, even during a deployment. There have been 1,000 sailors who have rotated on board as the carrier prepared to get underway again, while another 350 sailors remain in medical isolation on Guam. They will either eventually return to the ship or be sent to San Diego. The Roosevelt went back to sea to continue its mission Thursday, more than two months after being diverted to Gaum on March 26 to combat the outbreak of COVID-19.

Speaking from the carrier somewhere within the Philippine Sea, Sardiello said he cannot say where they are headed, or whether the deployment may be cut short.

“It’s not over until it’s over until we’re pier-side in San Diego, but what I’ve learned is you can prevent infectious disease spread at sea. The data is bearing that out right now with no new cases on board,” he said.

Until then, the USS Roosevelt will remain the Navy’s test case for controlling an outbreak of coronavirus at sea.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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