USS Theodore Roosevelt
USS Theodore Roosevelt. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alex Millar/US Navy

The captain of the San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt is pleading with the Navy to get over 100 coronavirus-infected sailors off the ship and into shore housing.

The aircraft carrier docked in Guam last week after nearly two dozen sailors tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors,” wrote Capt. Brett Crozier in a memo obtained and published Tuesday by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the Navy is working to get the infected sailors off the ship, but has been stymied by a lack of housing options on Guam.

Navy Capt. Brett E. Crozier, commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, based in San Diego.
Navy Capt. Brett E. Crozier, commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Navy photo

“We’ve been working the past several days to get those sailors off the ship,” he said. “We’re very concerned about it.”

He also said that not all crew members can leave because of critical jobs such as maintaining the carrier’s nuclear reactors and securing weapons.

In his memo, Crozier said it is impossible to follow guidance from the CDC on isolating infected personnel for 14 days because of close quarters aboard the ship, which carriers a crew of 3,000 and air wing of 2,000.

A military official Tuesday said the Navy was working to address the captain’s concerns.

The number of infected sailors aboard is unclear, per recent Navy changes to publicly reporting COVID-19 cases aboard its ships, but Crozier wrote that at least 33 sailors were initially diagnosed among the crew of more than 4,000.

The captain wrote that the ship’s close quarters make it nearly impossible to abide by federal quarantine guidelines recommending at least 14 days of isolation for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms.

“The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Crozier wrote.

The captain said some measures the crew has undertaken include moving a small percentage of the crew off-ship, increasing cleaning of the ship and attempting social distancing wherever possible.

However, he warns, “The current strategy will only slow the spread. The current plan in execution on TR will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline.”

Crozier wrote that the ship has only two courses of action: immediately reduce the number of sailors onboard or “maximize warfighting readiness and capacity as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, about 10 percent of the sailors remain onboard “to run the reactor plant, sanitize the ship, ensure security, and provide for contingency response to emergencies.”

“The virus would certainly have an impact, but in combat we are willing to take certain risks that are not acceptable in peacetime. However, we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” the letter reads. “Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and NAVADMIN 083/20 guidance and prevent tragic outcomes.”

Acting Navy Secretary Modly told CNN Tuesday: “I know that our command organization has been aware or this for about 24 hours and we have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam. The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and were having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities.

“We don’t disagree with the (Commanding Officer) on that ship and we’re doing it in a very methodical way because it’s not the same as a cruise ship, that ship has armaments on it, it has aircraft on it, we have to be able to fight fires if there are fires on board the ship, we have to run a nuclear power plant, so there’s a lot of things that we have to do on that ship that make it a little bit different and unique but we’re managing it and we’re working through it,” he added.

“We’re very engaged in this, we’re very concerned about it and we’re taking all the appropriate steps.”

Updated at 2:52 p.m. March 31, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.