U.S. Sailor Dies In Guam Of Coronavirus-Related Complications

Apr 14, 2020
Originally published on April 14, 2020 8:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A sailor from the aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt has died from coronavirus-related complications. The Roosevelt has been at the center of controversy for several weeks now - first because of the actions its captain took to sound alarm bells about the presence of the virus on his ship and then because of the unusual involvement of then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly. Our Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, has been following all this and joins us this morning. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do we know at this point about the sailor who has died?

BOWMAN: Well, the Navy has not released his name yet, pending family notification. I'm told he's a chief petty officer in his 40s. And he and four other sailors were isolated after testing positive for the virus a couple weeks ago. And this is the first death among the crew. Now, Rachel, he did not show any symptoms, I'm told, and was checked twice a day. And at one point on April 9, he was checked and was unresponsive. He was given CPR. He went to the ICU at a naval hospital in Guam. And he died yesterday. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday offered his condolences and said, quote, "We pledge our full support to the ship and crew as they continue their fight against the coronavirus."

MARTIN: And what do we know at this point about the health of the other sailors from the Roosevelt?

BOWMAN: Well, the four others are in the hospital, I'm told, not in the ICU. And then nearly 600 of the 5,000 sailors have tested positive for the virus. And as of yesterday, more than 90% of the crew has been tested. And more than 4,000 sailors are ashore in Guam. Of course, all this began with a letter from the carrier's captain, Brett Crozier, urging his superiors to move faster because he said the virus is spreading quickly. And he wanted the 4,000 sailors taken off immediately.

He sent that letter to more than 20 people, some outside the chain of command and, as a result, was relieved of command after the letter leaked to the press, to the San Francisco Chronicle. The 4,000 sailors have moved ashore to Guam, by the way, are either in barracks or hotels, depending on their condition. And a number of sailors have to remain on board to attend to the ship's nuclear reactors and other sensitive systems.

MARTIN: I imagine all this has raised concerns about other carriers in the fleet and the Navy itself.

BOWMAN: Right. And the officials say there's no reason to think the Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind problem with this virus. Ships, of course, are vulnerable. You're living in tight quarters, crew on top of one another. So the Navy's watching this very closely. There are two other carriers they're keeping an eye on, keeping tabs on.

The Reagan, based in Japan and undergoing maintenance, has had 15 virus cases. All those sailors are off the ship. And then you have the Nimitz, which is in port. And its sailors have been restricted for two weeks. There are no positive cases. Now, Adm. Gilday, the top naval officer, has said the Navy is struggling to test sailors quickly. They need a quick turnaround test. They also - they say they're short on tests themselves.

MARTIN: So just briefly - after Capt. Crozier was relieved from duty, the Navy said that they would investigate what happened in his firing. We should say, he found placement other - somewhere else in the Navy. But what is the timeline for that investigation?

BOWMAN: Right. When Crozier was relieved of command, officials said they would look into exactly what happened here on the Roosevelt and why he felt he had to write this letter, why the Navy wasn't moving quickly enough. And they say they're looking into what they call a breakdown in the chain of command. And, Rachel, we expect the results of that investigation perhaps later this week.

MARTIN: OK. We'll look out for it. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, we appreciate it.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.