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USS Roosevelt COVID-19 Outbreak Grows as DOD-built Facilities See Few Patients

FILE - The USS Theodore Roosevelt enters the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, March 5, 2020.
FILE - The USS Theodore Roosevelt enters the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, March 5, 2020.

As the number of coronavirus cases from the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier continued to rise in Guam, the defense secretary said he would not rule out the possibility of reinstating the ship’s fired captain upon the conclusion of an investigation into the situation.

Navy officials said 447 of the Roosevelt’s sailors had tested positive for coronavirus, which as of early Tuesday was more than 20% of all U.S. service members who had been confirmed with the virus worldwide. More than 3,100 sailors have been transferred off the ship.

Last week, the carrier’s commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, wrote a letter of concern to his superiors, urging them to take "decisive action" to prevent deaths from the coronavirus. He was fired by the acting secretary of the Navy, who later resigned.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday told a small group of reporters that the investigation of the Roosevelt matter was complete. He said he had begun to go through the report and would act based on where the investigation led.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CBS on Friday that he had issued guidance that “no further action will be taken against Captain Crozier until the investigation is completed.”

“We've taken nothing off the table,” Esper said, “so we'll see how that plays out.”

Medics, not space

As the military looks to Detroit, New Orleans and the state of Texas as the next COVID-19 hot spots, Thomas McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the Pentagon appeared to have provided more hospital spaces than needed in hard-hit areas from coast to coast.

In Seattle, a field hospital set up by the Army in a professional American football stadium shut down without ever seeing a patient. Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said Thursday that the move was to shift resources to a place where there was more urgent need.

The temporary hospital at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan and the Navy hospital ship Comfort docked in New York Harbor are together filled with thousands of empty hospital beds, with the Javits Center treating just 255 patients and the Comfort treating just 64 patients as of Friday morning. The facilities have a combined capacity of about 3,000 hospital beds.

But medical officials say New York City hospitals continue to be inundated with COVID-19 patients.

McCaffery said Friday that the Pentagon had learned during the outbreak response that civilian hospitals really needed extra manpower and staffing.

'Good due diligence'

When asked why so few patients had been treated by the military, McCaffery said it was likely because of "a shortage of the doctors and nurses and the staff you need to run a facility.”

“I wouldn't say that the states got it wrong. I would say that the states were doing good due diligence,” he said, “rather than being in a situation where they need that capacity and it's not there."

Esper told CBS on Friday that the Defense Department had about 2,500 doctors, nurses and others in New York City, and on Friday deployed another 300 to help local hospital workers.

As of early Friday, 3,054 coronavirus cases around the globe were related to the U.S. military — 2,031 service members, 493 civilians, 325 dependents and 205 contractors — the Pentagon said. There have been 13 DOD-related COVID-19 deaths, including one service member.