The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that has been docked in Guam since March 27 due to a coronavirus outbreak on board is now back at sea, the service announced late Wednesday.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt left Naval Base Guam and entered the Philippine Sea on May 21 “to conduct carrier qualification flights,” basic drills that will allow the crew to ramp up use of the carrier after 55 days away from sea.
The ship left port with just a portion of its nearly 5,000-member crew, as the qualification flights “requires fewer personnel than other missions, and bringing fewer Sailors on board will enable enhanced social distancing while underway,” Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the ship’s commanding officer, said in a statement.
The Theodore Roosevelt was on a scheduled deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Pacific when a COVID-19 outbreak on board forced the ship to dock in Guam. Nearly 4,000 sailors were moved off the ship while it was cleaned, and the illness ultimately infected more than 1,000 sailors.
The incident gained national attention when the previous commander of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after a letter he wrote warning about the outbreak leaked in the media. The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned after flying to Guam to give a speech aboard the ship’s loudspeakers berating Crozier.
The Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into the situation on the Roosevelt – resulting in a recommendation to reinstate Crozier – but current acting Secretary James McPherson ordered a more in-depth probe.
The adequate number of crewmembers needed to operate the ship at sea have since returned from quarantine after passing what the Navy says was “rigorous return-to-work criteria,” the Theodore Roosevelt’s public affairs office said in the statement.
The Navy earlier this week announced the carrier conducted a “simulated underway,” a drill where the vessel sat pier-side while its crew tested systems and procedures.
In addition to social distancing, sailors aboard the carrier will use Navy COVID prevention and mitigation policies, including wearing masks, medical surveillance of all crew, adjusted meal hours, minimizing in-person meetings and sanitizing spaces.