• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan and Johanna Salinas

Nearly 1,000 sailors tested Covid positive


A sailor disinfects equipment on USS Theodore Roosevelt. Photo courtesy of the US Navy

(Updated)

Stranded in Guam for exactly a month now, the USS Theodore Roosevelt is struggling to win the battle against Covid-19, which has hit 955 sailors, bringing to pass the warning sounded by the ship's former captain, Brett Crozier.

The latest Covid-19 tally on Roosevelt accounts for close to 50 percent of the Navy’s cumulative total for infected population.

The Navy's latest Covid-19 update was released amid the Pentagon’s pending action on a recently concluded investigation into circumstances that led to the massive contagion on the carrier ship, which has been docked in Apra Harbor for four weeks. The Department of Defense is also still weighing on the Navy's recommendation to reinstate Crozier, who himself tested Covid-19 positive.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has received a verbal update from the acting Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations on the Navy's preliminary inquiry into the Covid-19 outbreak on Roosevelt, according to Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

Capt. Brett Crozier

“After the Secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps,” Hoffman said. “He remains focused on and committed to restoring the full health of the crew and getting the ship at sea again soon."

The Navy’s medical team has completed the testing of Roosevelt’s entire crew. Of the total number of positive cases, only 14 sailors have recovered and one had died. One sailor is currently at the Naval Hospital Guam. “The number of recovered TR Sailors previously reported has been reset,” the Navy stated in its latest update. “Cases now are not counted as recovered until the sailor has had two successive negative tests.

Roosevelt, a San Diego-based Nimitz-class carrier with approximately 4,800 crew members, pulled port in Guam on March 27 after a visit to Vietnam. More than 4,000 have been moved off-shore and are quarantined at defense facilities on Guam and hotels in the Tumon district.

The Navy has a cumulative total of 2,105 Covid-19 cases, which include military personnel dependents, civilians and contractors working at various military installations.

Although three other carriers have been hit by the pandemic, the Roosevelt’s crisis has drawn wider national attention as a result of the leak of Crozier's memo, pleading with the Navy leaders to evacuate the sailors from the coronavirus-stricken ship. “We are not at war,” Crozier wrote “Sailors don’t need to die.”

Citing the Diamond Princess cruise ship as cautionary tale, Crozier warned that worse could happen on Roosevelt if the sailors were not evacuated. Among the Japanese cruise liner's 3,711 passengers and crew, 712 (19.2 percent) had positive test results for Covid-19 in February.

"The Diamond Princess was able to more effectively isolate people onboard than TR, due to a much higher percentage of individualized and compartmentalized accommodations onboard for paying customers," Crozier wrote. "Their measures still allowed hundreds of people to become infected. TR's best-case results, given the current environment, are likely to be much worse."

While the leaked memo had cost Crozier his job, Roosevelt sailors had since been moved off-shore.

At Monday’s press conference on Guam, Rear Adm. John Menoni, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, said the Navy Marine Corp Public Health Center and the CDC conducted a public health outbreak investigation on Roosevelt last week.

“The results from this investigation will help us to understand more about the virus and help us to inform Covid-19 surveillance litigation strategies,” he said.

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Menoni also gave the local government an update on the military’s medical expansion on Guam.

“The Andersen Air Force Base 554 Red Horse Squadron completed construction of the Expeditionary Medical Support System last week on U.S. Naval Hospital grounds. The E Med System is operational as of April 20 and is ready to receive patients should the need arise,” Menoni said.

He a larger Expeditionary Medical facility in South Finegayan will soon be up and running support Roosevelt’s medical needs. “If needed, we’d be postured to help support the Government of Guam fight against Covid19, if requested,” Menoni said.

He reassured the community that Guam will not be a hub for Covid-19 treatment of sailors for other Naval ships. “I confirmed that with the fleet commander,” he said.

Menoni read a letter from Roosevelt’s new commanding officer, Carlos Sardiello, who wrote, “I would like to personally extend my thank you to the people of Guam for their support in this time of crisis.”

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said Tumon hotels that are being used for quarantine will be cleaned up using CDC guidelines. “Once our sailors start redeployed back to the ship, I think there’s an agreement with the military for GHRA to prepare those rooms for future clients and customers,” she said. The U.S. Naval Base Guam's public affairs office announced on Tuesday that three unoccupied barracks buildings were refurbished at the Navy Base's Ordnance Annex in Santa Rita and will soon be used to house unaccompanied sailors, once again.

Plans to overhaul the buildings were only a discussion a few months ago, the Navy said.

However, in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the planning turned to immediate execution and the refurbishment was rapidly completed.

The restoration of these barracks directly supports current island-wide Covid-19 response efforts and will later add much needed capacity to installation barracks shortfalls, the Navy said.

NBG Public Works Officer Cmdr. Christopher Almond said the project was completed by Base Operating Support contractor DZSP-21 and other local contractors.

While the project was quickly executed, Almond explained, the barracks can now be used in the long-term as part of a bigger picture.

“This refurbishment restores important housing capability to meet U.S. Pacific Fleet mission requirements – from day-to-day peacetime operations to real world contingency operations like the ongoing Covid-19 response,” Almond said.“Similar to what we have witnessed during past natural disaster responses, the greater NBG Team once again proved their commitment to supporting our mission,” Almond said.

“The team worked tirelessly to meet all requirements and got the job done. Their hard work, commitment, and dedication is apparent.”In addition to refurbishing the barracks, NBG’s coordinated efforts provided support by connecting power to the island wide power system for the Expeditionary Medical Support System (EMEDS) at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam enabling increased hospital capacity.

“I was thoroughly impressed by the exceptional work done by NBG Public Works Department (PWD) and the greater NBG team. Operating with the sense of urgency required for this mission, each and every member of the team executed their tasks with the care and professionalism I have witnessed every single day,” Capt. Jeffrey Grimes, NBG commanding officer said.

A construction worker performs a task for the restoration of three unoccupied barracks buildings at the U.S. Naval Base Guam Ordnance Annex in Santa Rita. Photo courtesy of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas

“We are one team on Naval Base Guam and that team includes all military members, civilians, and contractors who are doing their part to fight from Guam, and fight for Guam.”NBG Public Works Department Requirements Branch Head, Freddie Rivera explained the 47,300 sq. ft. barracks refurbishment project was completed within two weeks-time.

“Before we did anything for any of the three buildings, we wanted to ensure the life safety components of the building were functional,” Rivera said. “This included the fire alarm panels – we tripped the system and it reports to the fire department. On the mechanical side, for the fire suppression systems we opened up the sprinkler valve and let it flow; the fire department got the alarm and all three buildings are good to go in that aspect.”

The repair and restoration of these buildings was significant since these buildings were unoccupied for over five years, Rivera explained. Other major parts of the refurbishment included the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning systems, re-carpeting, re-painting, pressure washing and replacement of non-skid paint on walkways, as well as deep cleaning and replacement of hardware.Mr. James Cruz worked on the barracks refurbishment coordinating various types of work performed.

“I’m grateful that I’m part of a team that has the ability to provide support to the everyday heroes, to work hand-in-hand tirelessly to complete a project in two days when it normally takes five, to work alongside colleagues who willingly skip dinner time with their families just to get that extra piece of work completed, and I’m grateful to provide that little-bit of comfort,” Cruz said.

The same sentiments of giving back, were echoed by PWD’s Rivera.“Our mission is to support the warfighter,” Rivera said. “The goal is to do whatever we can for the Sailors to make it livable, habitable, and for them to be comfortable if they do have to go into isolation or quarantine. I think of these Sailors like my own children, what do I want these facilities to be like when I get there. Even with the amount of square footage we had to cover, with this team – they’re ‘fight to the finish’ type of (people).”

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