The top Navy officer has recommended the reinstatement of the aircraft carrier captain fired for sending a fraught email to commanders pleading for faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, officials familiar with the investigation said Friday.
Adm. Mike Gilday recommended that Navy Capt. Brett Crozier be returned to his ship, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the results of an investigation that have not yet been made public, according to AP.
The decision on Capt. Brett Crozier’s future is expected to be made Friday, as the Chief of Naval Operations plans to brief Defense Secretary Mark Esper on the Navy’s findings on the handling of the Theodore Roosevelt coronavirus outbreak, a Pentagon spokesman said.
The decision will come less than a week before the Navy’s repopulation plan will begin on the aircraft carrier, The Chronicle has learned. By Thursday, the Navy plans to send 700 healthy sailors back on board the ship to rotate off a skeleton crew working there during a massive evacuation and quarantine plan, a sailor told The Chronicle. The infected carrier has been docked in Guam for almost a month.
These sailors, who have been isolating in Guam hotels for more than two weeks, must test negative twice in tests taken 48 hours apart. The final tests will be done Saturday in Guam. Sailors will wait for the results to come back from a South Korea lab before being allowed back onto the Roosevelt, the sailor said. The Chronicle agreed to withhold the name of the sailor, who was not authorized to speak to the media, in accordance with its anonymous sources policy.
That repopulation effort comes as the Navy finds itself with a new coronavirus battle on the destroyer Kidd. On Friday, the Navy announced 18 sailors have tested positive. The first sailor to test positive was flown off Thursday and returned to the United States. The sailor is stable and receiving care at a San Antonio hospital.
The Navy deployed a specialized medical team to the ship to conduct tracing and onsite testing and by Friday morning 17 more sailors tested positive. The Navy said it expected “additional cases.”
“The first patient transported is already improving and will self-isolate. We are taking every precaution to ensure we identify, isolate, and prevent any further spread onboard the ship,” said Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, in a statement. “Our medical team continues coordinating with the ship and our focus is the safety and well-being of every Sailor.”
The destroyer will return to port and the crew will clean and disinfect the ship.
The military has been grasping how to combat the virus since the Roosevelt outbreak, particularly the Navy which has sailors deployed in close quarters.
“The Navy has lessons learned … and they are quickly applying those to this case,” said Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman.
Hoffman said Esper plans to get briefed by Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday on Friday following the completion of an investigation into the letter Crozier wrote on March 31 pleading for help to evacuate his ship overrun with the virus. Crozier was removed as commanding officer of the carrier after Navy officials found he sent the warning to too many people, which allowed the letter to get outside the chain of command and undermine national security.
“His position remains the same, he’s going into this with an open mind and he’s generally inclined to support Navy leadership and their positions,” Hoffman said of Esper’s mindset before hearing recommendations on Crozier’s future.
As far as repopulating the Roosevelt, the sailor told The Chronicle that the crew aboard the warship has been cleaning and disinfecting areas of the ship and closing those off. On the final day, those sailors will clean up the remaining areas that they’ve been living in and the healthy 700 sailors returning onboard will start by staying in the areas cleaned weeks earlier and slowly repopulate the ship.
The offloaded crew will then start their own 14-day quarantine, taking the carrier’s stay in Guam into at least May.
Hoffman declined to share those plans Friday in a Pentagon briefing.
“This is a learning environment … We would rather take a little more time on the front end to get to a place where we have more confidence that the crew is safe and that the virus is no longer on the ship than being in the position a month from now where there’s a second wave,” he said.
As of Wednesday, 840 sailors had tested positive for the coronavirus, 4,098 have been negative and the entire crew had been tested. As Crozier had requested, most of the ship’s crew — more than 4,200 sailors — has been moved ashore and many into hotel rooms.
Four sailors remain hospitalized due to their infections. One sailor died and another spent time in intensive care. Almost 90 sailors have recovered.
Check back for updates.
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