The Navy has lost more sailors to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) this month than in all previous months combined.
Four sailors died of COVID-19 in February, which pushed the Navy’s total number of deaths to seven since since the pandemic began last spring.
The most recent sailor death was Chief Hull Technician Justin Huf, 39, who died on Feb. 22 of COVID-19, the Navy said. Huf was assigned to Assault Craft Unit 4 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Virginia.
Officials said Huf first developed symptoms on Feb. 16, tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 19, and was admitted to Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, on Feb. 20. The sailor died two days later in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Six Department of the Navy civilians have also died of COVID-19 in February. The Navy has lost a total of 53 civilians during the course of the pandemic.
While the sailors and civilians who have been lost to COVID-19 this month worked in different places, two sailors and two civilians were assigned to bases in Virginia, according to Navy officials.
In addition to Huf, Aviation Support Equipment Technician 1st Class Marcglenn L. Orcullo, 42, died on Feb. 12 at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia; a Navy civilian employee assigned to Navy Munitions Command Atlantic in Yorktown, Virginia, died on Feb. 10; and a Navy civilian employee assigned to Navy Warfare Development Command in Norfolk, Virginia, died on Feb. 22.
Overall, the number of reported daily COVID-19 cases in Virginia has dropped from nearly 10,000 back on Jan. 17 to roughly 1,700 as of Feb. 23, according to the state’s official tally.
But Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News, which are home to Navy installations, remain “red zones,” meaning they have reported new COVID-19 cases at or above 101 per 100,000 people and a lab test positivity of at least 10.1%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Navy is attributing the increase in the number of sailors who have died this month to a nationwide trend of COVID-19 deaths, according to a spokesman for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
“Since our service members live in the communities who are also dealing with this issue, we do not have reason to believe these most recent deaths are anything other than a reflection of the trends across the nation as a whole,” said Navy Cmdr. Denver Applehans.
Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat whose congressional district includes major Navy installations in Virginia, said she is “deeply saddened” by the recent deaths in her state.
“This is yet another painful reminder of the severity of this deadly virus,” said Luria, a retired Navy commander. “I urge the Navy to investigate this trend and determine what improved mitigation measures may be necessary to better protect Navy sailors and civilians.”
“As a 20-year Navy veteran, I know the importance of protecting our service members,” she continued. “I have confidence in Navy leadership to take all available measures to best safeguard our warfighters.”
A total of 24 service members have died of COVID-19 since March 30, 2020, a Pentagon official said. That breaks down as follows: Five active-duty sailors; two Navy Reserve sailors; seven National Guardsmen; four active-duty soldiers; and six Army Reserve soldiers.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday nearly 338,000 Defense Department personnel had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Since the Food and Drug Administration have approved the vaccines on an emergency use basis, they are not mandatory for troops and civilians.
Roughly 11 million Defense Department personnel are eligible for the vaccine.
President Joe Biden has said that all Americans will be able to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of July. Currently two vaccines made by drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna are being used and a third vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson could soon become available.
On Monday, Biden took a moment to honor the more than 500,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 since the disease upended everyday life.
“For those who have lost loved ones, this is what I know: They’re never truly gone,” Biden said during a speech at the White House. “They’ll always be part of your heart. I know this, as well — and it seems unbelievable, but I promise you: The day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before a tear to your eye. It will come. I promise you. My prayer for you though is that day will come sooner rather than later. And that’s when you know you’re going to be okay — you’re going to be okay.”
Featured image: A sailor stands watch at night on the flight deck as the USS San Antonio crosses the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell.)