'Bring every ship in': Former Navy secretary says it's time for drastic measures to fight coronavirus
Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the US fleet is facing an "acute problem" with the coronavirus pandemic and that it needs to make drastic measures to combat the disease.
In a "Pod Save The World" podcast released on Wednesday, Mabus pointed out why Navy sailors and Marines were particularly susceptible to the disease. News of the podcast was first reported on by the Navy Times.
"People do not have any way to social distance on any Navy ship, but particularly a carrier," Mabus said. "You've got almost 5,000 people here. And they literally are on top of each other."
Mabus said it was "distressing that it doesn't look like they have a plan" implemented after the political scandal that roiled aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt earlier this month.
As of Wednesday, 615 sailors aboard the ship tested positive. The majority of its crew members have been evacuated to in hotels in Guam, where the ship is in port.
The ship's commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command on April 2 after he emailed a letter to his colleagues about the urgent situation aboard his ship. The letter was eventually leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published its contents. Crozier was fired for what the then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly described as circumventing the chain of command.
Modly later resigned on April 7, after he visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt and delivered a profanity-laced speech about the situation on the ship.
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) sails in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
According to Mabus, Capt. Crozier's instincts were correct.
"I think what they need to do is bring every ship in," Mabus said. "Offload, like the captain said, offload most of the crew ... a little bit in a rolling fashion ... leave a very skeletal force on board, sanitize the ship, quarantine people for two weeks, make sure nobody's got COVID."
"And then once they go back on that ship, whether it's in port or it's going to sea, they don't get off the ship until this crisis is mitigated," Mabus added.
Mabus admitted that the unorthodox approach of calling in every ship in the service was not ideal, but added it was necessary given the spread of the disease.
"It's going to be hard because they may be inport in Norfolk or in San Diego, and once they go back on the ship and the ship is COVID-free, they're not going to get off to see their families," Mabus said. "But if we don't do that, I think you're going to see the situation that played out on the [USS Theodore Roosevelt] play out over and over again — not just on those big ships, but virtually every ship that we have in the Navy."
Mabus' comments come as the Defense Department reported over 5,000 coronavirus cases. Over 2,800 of the personnel are US service members, 85 of which are hospitalized as of Wednesday. One Navy sailor has died after contracting the coronavirus.
Mabus served as the Navy secretary from 2009 to 2017 and also served in the Navy as a surface warfare officer in the 1970s.
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