U.S. Navy 'Headed Into Choppy Waters' as First At-Sea Coronavirus Outbreak Threatens Preparedness Against China, Iran

A coronavirus outbreak on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt is a threat to the U.S. Navy's preparedness against China and Iran, according to a retired ship commander.

The Navy is scrambling to contain its first at-sea coronavirus outbreak after more than two dozen sailors tested positive aboard the Roosevelt following a port visit in Vietnam, the Associated Press reported.

The Roosevelt was engaged in an exercise with another U.S. warship in the Philippine Sea when the first coronavirus infection was detected onboard.

Earlier this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said that despite the outbreak, the Roosevelt would still be "able to respond to any crisis in the region." But according to the AP, the carrier may be forced to stay docked in Guam for days while more than 5,000 crew members are tested.

USS Roosevelt
An F/A-18F Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the Philippine Sea on March 18. Nicholas V. Huynh/U.S. Navy

According to the AP, the ship is one of 11 active aircraft carriers whose mission is key in deterring war with China and Iran.

"The Navy is headed into choppy waters in terms of readiness in the months ahead," said Adm. James Stavridis, a former ship commander who became NATO's top commander in Europe. Stavridis said the ship's tight sleeping quarters will become "birthing compartments" for the coronavirus.

In a statement on Thursday, Gilday said the Navy was working to identify and isolate positive cases to prevent the spread of the virus on the Roosevelt.

"We are taking this threat very seriously and are working quickly to identify and isolate positive cases while preventing further spread of the virus aboard the ship," he said.

He added that additional positive cases are expected and that medical staff are actively monitoring the health of the crew. Those who test positive will be transported to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam, he said.

"We're taking this day by day. Our top two priorities are taking care of our people and maintaining mission readiness. Both of those go hand in glove," he said. "We are confident that our aggressive response will keep U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt able to respond to any crisis in the region."

On Friday, it emerged that two sailors aboard another aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, have also tested positive for coronavirus, Fox News reported. The carrier is currently in a port in Japan.

The coronavirus has also made its way to the Pentagon. The U.S. Department of Defense reported that a Marine stationed at the Pentagon had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on Tuesday.

The department said the Marine had not been at the Pentagon since March 13 and is in isolation at his home.

"His workspace has been cleaned by a Pentagon response team and a thorough contact investigation is underway to mitigate risk and preserve the health of the workforce at the Pentagon," a department spokesperson said in a statement.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.