Sailor on Stricken Carrier Dies of COVID-19

April 13, 2020 Updated: April 13, 2020

A sailor assigned to the virus-stricken aircraft carrier in the Pacific has died, four days after being found unresponsive and being admitted to intensive care.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt is currently sidelined from its mission in the Pacific while the nuclear carrier is systematically evacuated and cleaned after an outbreak of COVID-19 on board.

The death of the sailor from the carrier underscores a dramatic warning by the captain in a memo to senior leaders that was leaked to the press. That memo that sparked a controversial series of events, including the captain’s dismissal, and culminated in the resignation of the acting Navy secretary.

Five hundred and 85 members of the crew of over 4,000 have so far tested positive, according to a statement on April 12, with 92 percent tested for the CCP virus, commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus.

The death of one of the carrier’s sailors today—whose name is being withheld until a day after his kin is notified—marks the first death of military personnel on active duty from the CCP virus.

“The sailor tested positive for COVID-19 March 30, was removed from the ship and placed in an isolation house on Naval Base Guam with four other USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) sailors,” the Navy said in a statement. “Like other sailors in isolation, he received medical checks twice daily from Navy medical teams.”

USS Theodore Roosevelt
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is seen while entering into the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, on March 5, 2020.(Kham/File Photo/Reuters)

On April 9, the sailor was found unresponsive during a check. He was taken to an intensive care unit in Guam, but died on April 13 of “COVID-related complications,” according to the Navy.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Guam on March 27 for a scheduled port visit for resupply and crew rest. However, it has been waylaid by the outbreak onboard.

The plight of the carrier has been held under the spotlight by a controversial series of events.

First, a dramatic memo from the captain to the leadership, in which he said the ship needed to be evacuated or crew members would die, was leaked to the press. Then, the captain was fired by the Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly sparking anger from many quarters and from the crew.

Modly then flew out to the carrier and gave a speech to the crew, hoping to justify the decision to fire the captain. But his speech was recorded and also leaked, with Modly’s criticisms of the captain, particularly his choice of the words “stupid and naive,” fueling yet more anger. After mounting public criticism, and after President Trump had hinted he might get involved, Modly finally apologized, before then abruptly resigning.

Epoch Times Photo
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 3, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Modly had said previously that he believed the captain penned the note knowing it would be leaked, that he effectively broke the chain of command. He also said that the Pentagon had already taken action by the time the captain’s note was made public.

Aircraft carriers are key pieces in the geopolitical and military chess game with China.

However, analysts told The Epoch Times that if push comes to shove in the Pacific, the Navy could shrug off any strategic disadvantages of having a single carrier sidelined.

If more carriers are struck by outbreaks, however, it could have some impact on U.S. military clout in the region.

Pentagon leaders say that despite the carrier being out of action, in aggregate the readiness of the military remains undiminished by the pandemic, although they admitted that it could degrade in the coming months.

“If our adversaries think this is our moment of weakness, they are dangerously wrong,” said Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist on April 9. “To those who wish us harm, make no mistake: even with the challenges that this disease has brought to our shores, the Department of Defense stands ready to meet any threat and defend our nation.”

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