It is the first loss of an active-duty service member to coronavirus. There are nearly 600 confirmed cases among the 5,000-member crew.
The Navy reported the first death of a sailor assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier that was stricken with an outbreak of coronavirus last month.
The sailor, whose identity has not yet been confirmed to the press, tested positive March 30 and was quarantined, but died Monday. It is the first loss of an active-duty service member to coronavirus. There are nearly 600 confirmed cases among the 5,000-member crew.
“Our thoughts are with the family of the USS Theodore Roosevelt sailor who lost his battle with the virus today,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said in a statement. “We remain committed to protecting our personnel and their families while continuing to assist in defeating this outbreak.”
The USS Theodore Roosevelt received heightened media attention in March, when Captain Brett Crozier sent an email to 20 members of Naval leadership voicing his concerns about failures to remove exposed sailors and disinfect areas as the virus spread through the ship.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
The email was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and, though hailed a hero, Crozier was relieved of duty for his efforts. Videos circulated of the crew, sent to quarantine in Guam March 27, giving the captain a standing ovation as he disembarked. On April 5 it was reported that he, too, tested positive.
“All the services at times relieve commanders without the benefit of an investigation up front because they’ve lost confidence in them. It’s certainly not unique to the Navy,” Defense Secretary Esper told the press. But he also reprimanded acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly and ordered him to apologize for calling the fired captain “too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer” in an address to the ship’s crew. Modly resigned April 7.
Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee protested Crozier’s firing in a statement, though allowing the captain made mistakes in the way he advocated for his subordinates. “Captain Crozier was justifiably concerned about the health and safety of his crew, but he did not handle the immense pressure appropriately,” the lawmakers said.
While Monday’s was the first death of an active-duty member of the armed forces, a member of the New Jersey National Guard died of COVID-19 complications on March 28. Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, 57, worked as a physician assistant and tested positive March 21.
The number of coronavirus and COVID-19 cases within the U.S. military continues to climb, with the number of cases across the Defense Department surpassing 2,500. Though the Navy is the hardest hit, the US Marine Corps temporarily suspended basic training for 50% of its new recruits and the Army has stopped “non-mission essential functions.” The Pentagon also ordered a 60-day freeze on all U.S. troop movements overseas.