At least five sailors who had returned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier after a coronavirus quarantine have tested positive for the virus again, the Navy confirmed Friday.
“This week, five USS Theodore Roosevelt sailors who previously tested COVID positive and met rigorous recovery criteria, exceeding CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines, have retested positive,” the Navy said in a statement.
The sailors, who the statement said were self-monitoring and adhering to “strict” social distancing protocols, developed flu-like symptoms and "did the right thing reporting to medical for evaluation."
“The sailors were immediately removed from the ship and placed back in isolation, their close contacts were mapped, and they are receiving the required medical care,” the statement added. “A small number of other sailors who came in close contact with these individuals were also removed from the ship and tested. They will remain in quarantine pending retest results.”
The New York Times first reported that at least one sailor who returned to the ship had tested positive for the virus and was quickly taken off. An email to most of the ship’s crew said a sailor had failed to report losing the sense of smell, which has emerged as a telltale symptom of the virus, for four days, according to the Times.
The latest development points to the continuing difficulty of stamping out an outbreak aboard the close quarters of a ship.
In a Pentagon briefing Friday, chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman called the Roosevelt outbreak a “learning process.”
“It’s a stubborn disease. We’re learning a lot. We’re taking every step possible to get the ship fully clean and fully ready,” he said.
Hoffman added the “good news” about the latest developments is that processes have been put in place, including testing, medical surveillance and contact tracing, to “quickly address the issue.”
The outbreak on the Roosevelt, in which more 1,000 sailors were infected, erupted into a political firestorm after the ship’s former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, wrote a letter pleading for help evacuating the ship.
After the letter leaked in the media, Crozier was fired by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who later resigned himself after giving a speech aboard the Roosevelt berating Crozier.
More than 4,000 sailors from the Roosevelt’s nearly 5,000-person crew were eventually taken off the ship to quarantine at Naval Base Guam or hotels around Guam. In late April, the Navy began returning sailors to the aircraft carrier. Returning to the ship required testing negative two consecutive times.
The Navy has been conducting an investigation into the situation on the Roosevelt. The Pentagon’s inspector general announced this week it would also investigate the Navy’s response to the pandemic on its ships.