Coronavirus test
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christian Akins, from Atlanta, assigned to Naval Hospital Guam, takes a nasal sample from a U.S. Sailor assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt as part of a public health outbreak investigation April 22, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Liaghat.

Results from a public health investigation into the novel coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt were released by the Navy Tuesday. A notable finding — nearly two-thirds of crewmembers were infected with SARS-CoV-2.

“This is a stealthy virus and the results from this outbreak investigation provides us with increased knowledge about COVID-19 so we can better protect the crew, their shipmates on other vessels, and ultimately the nation,” said Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, US Navy Surgeon General.

The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center conducted the joint investigation in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Volunteers completed a survey and provided blood and nasal swab samples for testing.

A total of 382 service members gave blood samples and 267 crewmembers provided nasal swab samples. Antibody testing done on nearly 400 service members show 62 percent were infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that most were mildly ill.

This is the first CDC published report on this specific demographic of young adults.

Other findings include:

  • 44 (18.5 percent) of service members who were identified as having a current or previous SARS-CoV-2 infection did not report any symptoms.
  • Among those who provided nasal swabs, just over one-third tested positive for current infection.
  • Loss of taste or smell was the symptom most associated with current or previous infection; participants reporting these symptoms were 10 times more likely to have infection than were those who did not.
  • Among 12 participants with antibodies that were detected longer than 40 days after symptom onset, eight remained neutralization positive including two participants who were tested 3 months after symptom onset.
  • Among all participants, current or previous infection was more common among males than females, but did not differ significantly by age, race, ethnicity, or history of a preexisting medical condition.
  • Current or previous infection was higher among participants who reported contact with someone known to have COVID-19 (64.2 percent) compared with those who did not (41.7 percent) and higher among service members who reported sharing a room with another service member that tested positive (65.6 percent)  compared with those who did not.
  • Service members who reported taking preventive measures compared to those who did not had a lower infection rate (wearing a face covering (55.8 percent versus 80.8 percent), avoiding common areas (53.8 percent versus 67.5 percent), and observing social distancing (54.7 percent versus 70.0 percent).

“This study paints a picture of current and prior SARS-CoV-2 infection among young adults living in close quarters,” said study CDC author Dan Payne, PhD.  “This data will contribute to understanding COVID-19 in the U.S. military, as well as among young adults in other close communal environments.”

The San Diego-based aircraft carrier departed for a scheduled deployment Jan. 17. The ship docked in Guam on March 27 after its former captain, Brett Crozier, pleaded with the Navy for help with the outbreak. Crozier was fired when his memo was leaked to the press, but cheered by the crew as he departed. His case is under review.

For the past 10 weeks, the Navy quarantined crew members in hotels, cleaned all surfaces in the giant ship, and tested every crew member multiple times. Over 1,000 sailors contracted the disease, many were hospitalized, and one died.

The carrier is operating under new procedures to prevent another outbreak, with the crew wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

— Staff report