WASHINGTON -- The Navy has incorporated lessons learned from the initial COVID-19 outbreaks onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS Kidd (DDG 100) into guidance to sustain underway operations while fighting the virus during future outbreaks at sea.
Fleet Surgeons, supported by a Navy Medicine scientific panel of medical researchers, public health experts and laboratory specialists, were able to confirm that Theodore Roosevelt Sailors whose diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests remained positive ten days or more after the onset of their symptoms were no longer infectious. This, combined with other independent scientific reports of persistent viral shedding, led to a Fleet-wide shift to a symptoms-based recovery strategy instead of one requiring PCR out-testing. The new strategy will allow ships and units with outbreaks to more quickly return to normal operations and prevent protracted recoveries.
“Protecting the total workforce remains our top priority. At the same time the Navy is still answering the call to defend the nation, protect sea lanes, and assist those in need,” said Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, the Navy’s operations chief in charge of coordinating the service’s response to COVID-19. “The Navy will continue to operate in this ‘new normal’ environment with COVID, but won’t be limited in our ability to respond to whatever our Nation needs.”
Another lesson learned from Theodore Roosevelt was the value of strict ship-board protocols which help contain the spread of the virus if found onboard. Refined procedures and a better understanding of preventative and mitigation actions has been shown to be effective. Several ships have had a COVID+ case, but the Crew’s actions have enabled the virus to be contained to a relatively small group and the ship continue its planned operations.
Sawyer also spoke about the Fleet commanders’ development of “Safe Haven” ports for ships to safely pull in and get some rest and relaxation for their crews as well as accomplishing logistical resupply and repairs. These ports would be designed to support and maintain the ships’ COVID-free “bubble.”
As we adjust our operating procedures throughout the Fleet, it’s critical that Sailors follow basic force health protection measures. “Everything that we’ve learned emphasizes that the fundamentals still count,” said Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham. “Our Sailors are demonstrating that they understand the importance of using public health preventative measures like hand washing, wearing face coverings, social distancing and reporting any symptoms they experience in order to protect the ship, their shipmates and their mission.”
The Navy’s new Standard Operational Guidance, issued May 27, provides direction for isolation, quarantine and contact tracing upon an initial outbreak, to include ships at sea that cannot medically evacuate personnel because of geographic or operational concerns.
“Our Sailors are resilient and highly trained to fight a number of threats at sea- whatever the adversary,” said Sawyer, “and COVID-19 is just a new adversary we are prepared to combat.”
Across the Navy, rapid adaptation to local conditions and creative risk mitigation plans will remain key to achieving a force hardened against the pandemic.
Navy leadership will keep the Fleet and their families informed on safely navigating forward during this pandemic and will continue to update operational guidance as our understanding of COVID-19 grows.