Aircraft carrier captain: My entire crew needs to be isolated -- immediately

Aircraft carrier captain: My entire crew needs to be isolated -- immediately

There are more than 4,000 sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Three were known to be infected with coronavirus seven days ago. By Friday it was 36, per some reports. Sources are now whispering to the San Francisco Chronicle that the actual number may be more like … 150 to 200.

You know what exponential growth looks like at this point. The quarters on this ship are far too close for any sort of meaningful social distancing to mitigate the spread. The match has been lit and is about to touch gasoline, if it hasn’t already.

The ship is currently docked in Guam. The captain took the extraordinary step of sending a formal letter to the Navy Department requesting permission to have nearly everyone aboard disembark immediately and head to quarantine on the island to prevent a catastrophe.

A U.S. aircraft carrier is about to be taken entirely offline, at least for several weeks, by COVID-19.

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” [Capt. Brett] Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

In the four-page letter to senior military officials, Crozier said only a small contingent of infected sailors have been off-boarded. Most of the crew remain aboard the ship, where following official guidelines for 14-day quarantines and social distancing is impossible…

“[W]e are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote. “Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and (Navy) guidance and prevent tragic outcomes.”

This isn’t a case of the Pentagon being callous to the basic needs of personnel. Obviously, they need to get these people off the ship. The Times describes the layout as an almost perfect viral incubator: “Many of the berths where sailors sleep include bunk beds. Hallways and doorways are cramped. Bathrooms and cafeterias are shared areas. Low ceilings and narrow, ladderlike stairwells that require the use of hands to maneuver up and down all contribute to an ever-present opportunity to spread the virus.” If density is the key factor in New York City’s rapid spread, imagine what the hyper-density of an aircraft carrier will do.

The problem here is logistical. The first step is preserving a skeleton crew to maintain essential services onboard the ship while everyone else is evacuating, starting of course with the nuclear reactor that powers it. The next step is arranging for a deep clean of the entire vessel. “A tougher environment to disinfect can scarcely be imagined,” says Defense One. “A Nimitz-class carrier has more than 3,000 spaces — ‘rooms,’ to non-sailors — that hold all manner of complicated and dangerous machinery, up to and including nuclear reactors.” I’ll defer to Navy veterans on estimates for how long that’ll take but it sounds like a job that’ll last weeks. One possibility is to just wait it out and hope/trust that the virus dies off naturally on exposed surfaces over the course of, say, 14 days, but trusting nature to take its course and kill every trace would be a risky proposition. If a bit of it survives for whatever reason and another sailor is infected after the crew finally re-boards leaves port, they’ll have to go through this entire process again.

Next problem: Where do they quarantine? Watch the first few minutes of this interview today with the Secretary of the Navy. He’s sympathetic to their plight and wants to get them off ASAP. “The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now,” he says, “so we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create some tent-type facilities there.”

The Navy suspects that a crew member contracted the disease during a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam. They assumed it was safe because Vietnam had fewer than 100 known cases at the time, mostly clustered in the north. We as a people need to internalize this fact: No one knows how many actual cases of coronavirus there are. The known case numbers are next to meaningless.

How many servicemen and women, not to mention ships, will be out of commission — or dead — in the next month of this plague?

In lieu of an exit question, there’s another coronavirus story out there involving mass infections among young people that’s worth your time, but the circumstances are very different. A group of 70 or so idiots at the University of Texas decided to ignore everything happening around them and hold spring break as scheduled in Mexico a week and a half ago, replete with a chartered plane. They’re now back in the U.S. Results: 28 have tested positive for coronavirus and are in isolation and the rest are being “closely monitored” by Austin officials in quarantine. The county in which Austin is situated had 206 known cases as of yesterday, meaning that these imbeciles increased the county case load by more than 10 percent in one fell swoop. How many other people they infected before they were diagnosed, God only knows.

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