A Navy Ship Trump Ordered to Fight Cartels Exploiting Coronavirus Got Hit So Hard By COVID-19, Another Country Had to Help It

A U.S. warship carrying out President Donald Trump's recently enhanced anti-drug mission he linked to stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus is now suffering a serious outbreak of the disease. Because one sailor required medical attention, another country stepped in to help.

The Navy announced Friday that a sailor aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd "tested positive for COVID-19 after being medically evacuated to the United States from operations at sea, April 23." The senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that this service member was "evacuated from the ship through the assistance of coordination with a partner nation in Central America."

A Navy official confirmed the foreign assistance to Newsweek and placed the official count of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the USS Kidd at 18. But the senior Pentagon official said there were "likely many more"—closer to 30—"given the spacing constraints of a smaller ship." The ship has been forced to return from the Eastern Pacific to port, though the Navy did not specify the destination.

Trump announced the Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Mission that the USS Kidd was conducting on April 1, and during a news conference, linked the mission to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives," he said.

At the time, one senior administration official defended Trump's characterization of the mission to Newsweek, adding that the narcotics trade "can contribute to the spread of the virus among diverse groups of people and across vast distances."

However, other senior U.S. officials criticized the mission, telling Newsweek that the mission had actually been developed months ago and was designed to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and bore no relation to stopping the spread of coronavirus.

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd transits the Pacific Ocean, as part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, January 25. Both ships have since been hit hard by the novel coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Navy/MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 3RD CLASS SEAN LYNCH

The Trump administration has intensified economic and political pressure against Venezuela and its leftist-led ally, Cuba. In response to the new U.S. military deployment off their shores, Caracas and Havana officials have denied complicity in moving drugs in the region, with Maduro accusing the U.S. leader of attempting to distract from the growing crisis affecting both public health and the economy at home.

The latest coronavirus outbreak comes just more than a week after a U.S. sailor who tested positive for COVID-19 died. The sailor was assigned to the Nimitz-class USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, which as of Friday has suffered more than 800 instances of the new coronavirus disease that has infected more than 880,000 people in the United States, the worst-hit nation in the world.

The disease has raised concerns about U.S. military readiness, an issue the U.S. intelligence community began tracking February 27, according to documents reviewed by Newsweek. The Navy, however, has regularly maintained it was capable of carrying out its tasks across the globe as it struggled to curb the spread of the coronavirus among its ranks.

"The first patient transported is already improving and will self-isolate. We are taking every precaution to ensure we identify, isolate, and prevent any further spread onboard the ship," said Navy Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, head of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet said Friday in a press statement.

"Our medical team continues coordinating with the ship and our focus is the safety and well-being of every Sailor," Gabrielson added.

This article has been updated to reflect that the USS Kidd's destination was not specified.

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A graphic published by U.S. Southern Command details the Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Operations announced by President Donald Trump on April 1. U.S. Southern Command