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Navy leaders: 2,700 sailors will be taken off aircraft carrier with coronavirus outbreak

Nearly 3,000 sailors will be taken off a U.S. aircraft carrier in the coming days, Navy leaders said Wednesday, after the ship's captain penned a letter pleading for help to end a coronavirus outbreak on board.

“We think that there was a communications breakdown potentially with the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, but when we became aware yesterday morning of these concerns we made sure that we were meeting expectations,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said at a Pentagon briefing.

“I think the misunderstanding, perhaps, was the requirement at speed to get people off the ship,” he added later.

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Gilday’s comments alongside acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly come a day after a letter from USS Theodore Roosevelt commander Capt. Brett Crozier leaked in the media, showing him warning of dire consequences if most of the sailors on the ship aren’t evacuated.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

As of Wednesday, 93 sailors on the Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus, Modly said. Of those, 86 had symptoms, while the rest were asymptomatic. About 24 percent of the crew has been tested, with 593 tests coming back negative, he added.

Modly said nearly 1,000 of the carrier’s 4,800 sailors have already been taken off the ship, which docked in Guam last week.

The Navy expects 2,700 will be off the ship “in the next couple of days,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, officials in Guam said sailors who test negative for the virus will be quarantined in hotels on the island.

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About 1,000 sailors will need to stay on board for essential jobs, such as running the nuclear reactor that powers the ship, Modly and Gilday said. It was not immediately clear if or when the remaining approximately 1,100 sailors would be removed from the ship.

“We cannot and will not remove all the sailors from the ship,” Modly said.

Crozier’s letter estimated only 10 percent of the crew would need to stay on the ship. Modly said he does not “believe we can do it with 10 percent.”

Modly called Crozier’s comment on the Navy not taking care of its sailors “disappointing,” adding, “I know that that’s not the truth.”

“We need those sailors to be safe, we need them to be healthy, and we need that ship to be operational, and so we’re doing everything we can,” Modly said.

Modly would not rule out punishment for Crozier over the letter, but said it would be a matter of who gave it to the media over the letter itself.

“I don't know who leaked the letter to the media. That would be something that would violate the principles of good order and discipline, if he were responsible for that. But I don't know that,” he said.

"The fact that he wrote the letter up to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation," Modly added.