More than 190 Navy warships have endured novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks so far this year, the service’s top officer said in a message to the fleet.
Navy Times first reported the news, noting that the rate of infections represents nearly 65 percent of the service’s 296 deployable ships.
The number of afflicted ships represents a stark increase from the at least 40 ships that the Navy said had suffered from COVID-19 outbreaks as of late April.
In his message, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday stated that, in the majority of the cases, “aggressive early action” to quarantine affected sailors, contract trace, and enforce health protection mitigation measures “contained the incidence rate to less than five percent.”
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Emily Wilkin told Navy Times that the affected vessels were a mix of ships at sea and in port, adding that the service “[has] not had any [other] outbreaks like USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Kidd.”
The quickly spreading outbreak on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt ultimately left nearly 1,300 crew members testing positive for COVID-19.
Similarly, an outbreak aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd left at least 78 sailors positive for COVID-19 before the Navy stopped publically releasing updates on the crew’s status.
The “key enablers” for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 are strict compliance with personnel protective equipment (PPE), aggressive sanitization/cleaning, minimizing crew interactions through social distancing, and reducing use of confined spaces,” Gilday said.
“Assume COVID-19 is onboard. This should be the number one planning factor,” Gilday added, urging crews to “avoid false confidence, complacency and COVID ‘fatigue.'”
Gilday’s cautiously optimistic message runs somewhat contrary to messaging from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who claimed back in May that “the safest place to be is on a deployed Navy ship as compared to one that’s in port.”
“Of the 90+ ships we have at sea, we only have two that have been affected,” Esper said of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Kidd outbreaks at the time. “Two ships out of, I think, 94, it’s a pretty good record.”