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Aircraft carrier docks in Guam as crew tests for coronavirus

Aircraft carrier docks in Guam as crew tests for coronavirus
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A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier where nearly two dozen sailors have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus will pull into port in Guam while everyone on board is tested for the virus, the Navy's top civilian said Thursday.

“We found several more cases on board the ship,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said at a Pentagon briefing. “We are in the process of testing 100 percent of the crew of that ship to ensure that we’re able to contain the spread of whatever might have occurred there on the ship.

“But I also want to emphasize that the ship is operationally capable and can do its mission if required to do so,” he continued. “So the ship is pulling into Guam. It will be pierside. No one on the crew will be allowed to leave anywhere into Guam, other than on pierside.”

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Modly said at the briefing that eight sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier had tested positive and were flown off the ship, as was reported Wednesday evening.

But The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the briefing wrapped that at least 23 sailors aboard the ship have now tested positive for the virus.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said "additional positive cases" had been discovered without specifying the number, adding that "we expect additional positive tests."

"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," Gilday said. "We are confident that our aggressive response will keep USS Theodore Roosevelt able to respond to any crisis in the region."

Gilday described the stop in Guam as "previously scheduled," but added the resources there will allow the Navy to better test, isolate and treat sailors.

The ship holds a crew of 5,000 sailors, as well as dozens of fighter jets and other types of aircraft.

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The carrier had been operating in the Philippine Sea, and the decision to dock it in Guam effectively sidelines what officials consider a major source of America’s power projection.

The carrier was last in port 15 days ago in Danang, Vietnam. Officials have previously said the coronavirus cases may not necessarily be tied to the port visit since aircraft regularly land on the ship, bringing in new people from outside the command.

Modly said all the sailors who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are experiencing mild symptoms.

“The sailors who have been flown off the ship are currently doing fine. None of them have been required to be hospitalized because their symptoms are very mild,” he said. “They’re aches and pain and those types of things, sore throats, but nothing that required hospitalization. So they are in quarantine now on Guam.”

He also said there is limited capacity to conduct coronavirus tests in labs on board the carrier without flying the tests to outside labs. There are about 800 testing kits aboard the ship, with more being flown there today, he added.

In all, Modly said 104 active-duty sailors, 23 civilians, 16 dependents and 19 contractors have tested positive in the Navy.

The Marine Corps has had 44 positive coronavirus tests, he added, including 31 active-duty, five civilians, five dependents and three contractors. The Marine Corps cases include a Marine who is stationed at the Pentagon.

The Navy and Marine Corps cases account for about a third of all cases connected to the Pentagon, a trend for which Modly said “it would be speculation for me to try to give you a reason for why that has happened.”

As of Thursday morning, the Pentagon said it had a total of 600 coronavirus cases: 280 active-duty, 134 civilians, 98 dependents and 62 contractors. 

Updated at 4:46 p.m.