WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sailors from the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt will begin returning to the aircraft carrier in the next 24 to 48 hours for the first time since they were moved ashore because of COVID-19, according to a defense official.
The official said that returning sailors could do so after testing negative for the virus twice in a 24-hour period, but the source declined to say how many sailors would be in the initial return.
The sailors have been ashore in Guam as part of a massive effort to evacuate all of the ship’s nearly 5,000 troops and ensure they are virus-free through testing. These initial returning sailors will replace several hundred who had been left aboard to operate essential functions to keep the ship running, including manning the nuclear plant and providing safety and security.
Those sailors who had remained on the ship as part of the “watch” team will now move ashore in Guam and wait at least 14 days to ensure they test negative for the coronavirus. Once all of that happens, the Navy hopes to send the aircraft carrier back out to sea.
Still unresolved is the fate of the ship’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of duty for allegedly violating the chain of command in expressing concern about the crew’s health.
Earlier this month, former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly flew to Guam to address troops in remarks, calling Crozier “too naive or too stupid” to be captain of the aircraft carrier following a leaked memo warning of a coronavirus outbreak on the ship.
Modly resigned a day after the trip, which cost the Defense Department almost a quarter of a million dollars. Defense Secretary Mark Esper so far has not acted on a Navy recommendation to restore Crozier to that position, saying previously that he has “an open mind” on whether the Navy should reinstate the fired commanding officer.
As of Tuesday, the ship has fewer positive cases than the day before for the first time. There were 940 cases, compared with 955 on Monday, reflecting an increase in the number of sailors who have recovered.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt is not the only ship facing an outbreak of the virus. A senior Navy official told CNN last week that there were currently coronavirus cases on 26 US Navy warships, and another 14 had been hit by the virus but the crew members impacted have recovered.
But the aircraft carrier was the site of a research study by the military and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how the virus had spread through the ship. The study appears to have gotten a lukewarm response from the crew, who had been asked to volunteer to undergo nasal swabs and blood tests for antibodies.
The sailors were informed that while the results of the swab tests would be provided to each of them, individual results of the blood tests would not, because of the research nature of the work. Their hope had been that 1,000 sailors would volunteer to take part, according to the Navy, but only about 400 crew members participated.