Captain of aircraft carrier in the Pacific pleads for help as virus cases rise onboard

The crisis aboard the Roosevelt played out like a slow-moving disaster and highlights the dangers to the Pentagon if the coronavirus manages to infiltrate some its most important assets, such as bomber fleets, elite Special Operations units and the talisman of US military power, aircraft carriers.

In a statement, a Navy official said that the commanding officer of the Roosevelt “alerted leadership in the Pacific Fleet on Sunday evening of continuing challenges in isolating the virus.”

“The ship’s commanding officer advocated for housing more members of the crew in facilities that allow for better isolation,” the statement said. “Navy leadership is moving quickly to take all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt, and is pursuing options to address the concerns raised by the commanding officer.”

A senior Navy official on Sunday sought to play down the urgency of the situation on the Roosevelt, saying that while it was unfortunate, most of the reported symptoms at that point among the sickened sailors and other crew members had been mild.

Last week, Thomas B. Modly, the acting Navy secretary, told reporters that three cases of the virus had been reported aboard the Roosevelt, marking the first time a US Navy ship had announced a coronavirus infection at sea.

Fifteen days earlier, the ship made a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam.


Modly defended the ship’s decision to dock in Vietnam despite the spread of the virus through Asia. He said that, at the time, coronavirus cases in Vietnam were less than 100 and located in the north of the country, around Hanoi. Port calls for US Navy ships have since been cancelled.

Major General Jeff Taliaferro, the vice director of operations with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged on Monday that there had been media reports about coronavirus aboard the Roosevelt, but declined to go into details for security reasons, he said.

But, echoing a line that the military has consistently taken during the course of the pandemic, Taliaferro insisted that the Roosevelt can nonetheless perform its missions. If the Roosevelt had to sail immediately, Taliaferro told reporters on a conference call, it was “ready to sail.”

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