COVID-19 is hitting aircraft carriers and other Navy ships. What are the risks for Virginia sailors?

COVID-19 is hitting aircraft carriers and other Navy ships. What are the risks for Virginia sailors?
Naval Ship (Source: pixabay)

WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier led to the quarantine of thousands of sailors, firing of the captain who pleaded for help, the resignation of the acting U.S. Navy secretary and broad concerns about the safety of servicemembers confined to cramped quarters aboard vessels.

Those concerns are acute in Virginia, which is home to six of the nation’s 11 aircraft carriers and numerous other warships. Three of those carriers — USS George Washington, USS John C. Stennis and USS George H.W. Bush — are currently at Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, according to the Navy.

In addition to the Roosevelt, three other U.S. aircraft carriers have reported positive cases of COVID-19, Politico reported. They include the Bremerton, Wash.-based USS Nimitz and USS Carl Vinson; and the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan. And experts expect it’s likely just a matter of time before other carriers see infections.

“We’ve got confirmed cases on four carriers, and obviously there are ships other than carriers, too,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the Mercury Wednesday in an interview.

He said it’ll be “very hard to avoid” infections across the U.S. fleet of aircraft carriers. “This is a global pandemic that is going to affect every community and every country in the world,” Kaine said. In the military, “the Navy has been the hardest hit and that’s not a surprise in a way, because the Navy operates in the closest quarters.”

Former Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran doesn’t expect the widespread outbreak on the Roosevelt carrier to be a “one-off,” he said this week in an interview.

“Ships and submarines and other parts of the Navy’s fleet are very susceptible,” added Moran, who served on the U.S. House defense appropriations subcommittee. “The Navy is known for its cleanliness and the fact that they scrub everything down, but even so, I think that these crews are vulnerable.”

Among the branches of the military, the Navy was reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases, the Military Times reported this week.

More than 400 sailors assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is docked in Guam, have tested positive for COVID-19, NBC News reported Thursday. One sailor was transferred to an intensive care unit.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.