Roosevelt commanders aggravated COVID-19 outbreak: watchdog

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The Pentagon’s inspector general faulted leadership on a U.S. aircraft carrier for decisions the watchdog said exacerbated a coronavirus outbreak on the vessel early in the pandemic.

More than 1,200 sailors aboard the USS Roosevelt were infected with the coronavirus in the spring of 2020. The outbreak, and the Navy’s response, erupted into a political firestorm. 

An inspector general report released Monday found that USS Roosevelt commanders did not keep sailors in quarantine for long enough or strictly enforce social distancing rules. Leaders continued conducting urine tests for drug use amid the outbreak and “allowed social gathering areas to remain open.” The watchdog cited earlier investigations by Navy commanders in its report.

“Furthermore, the USS Theodore Roosevelt leadership decided to prematurely release sailors from quarantine because conditions in quarantine were crowded, and they believed that the quarantine caused more sailors to become infected,” stated the report, published Thursday and publicly released Monday.

The vessel reported its first case of the virus on March 24 after finishing a Da Nang, Vietnam, port call. The outbreak eventually swelled to a total of 1,271 sailors, more than a quarter of the crew, and resulted in one death.

Capt. Brett Crozier, the vessel’s commander, wrote a letter to his superiors outlining the dire situation and pleading for help evacuating the ship. He was relieved of his command after the letter leaked to the media, with Navy leadership saying he sent the letter through an unsecured email.

The report concluded by recommending a review and update to shipboard quarantine and isolation procedures based on lessons gleaned from the outbreak, “for example implementation of restriction of movement, pre-deployment sequesters, personal protective equipment supply requirements, and shipboard quarantine procedures.” Naval procedures for such operations were last updated in 2014.

The report also recommended strategic naval leadership “develop a plan of action and milestones for Navy Component Commands to conduct biennial Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease exercise.”

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