Sailors check each other for fever
Sailors check each other for fever aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Navy photo

Ineffective social distancing and the premature release of sailors from quarantine were the primary causes of increased COVID-19 infection aboard the San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The findings, in a report released Monday by the Department of Defense, evaluated the Navy’s response to COVID-19 infections on board warships and submarines, and included pointed criticisms of the Roosevelt’s leadership team’s decisions.

The first Roosevelt sailors tested positive last March 24. The ship’s outbreak ultimately resulted in more than 1,200 sailors testing positive for the virus, one of whom died.

According to the report from the DOD’s Office of Inspector General, “the USS Theodore Roosevelt leadership did not effectively implement mitigation measures for the majority of the crew,” including by allowing social gathering areas to remain open and releasing sailors from shipboard quarantine due to the belief that infection was increasing amid crowded conditions onboard.

The report says the ship’s leaders believed “social distancing would be impossible onboard an aircraft carrier” and thus allowed social gathering areas like gyms to remain open. The report also states that urinalysis screenings for illegal substances continued, though “the leadership team should have considered (the screenings) non-essential during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Ship leaders also released 900 to 1,000 sailors from quarantine due to crowded conditions in the quarantine area located in the rear portion of the ship.

According to the report, “this decision was made because the ship’s leadership believed that conditions in the aft quarantine areas were creating ‘human suffering’ and that the large number of sailors in the aft quarantine areas was crowded and unmanageable.”

The report states that lessons learned from the Roosevelt’s outbreak, as well as a separate outbreak aboard the USS Kidd, have been instrumental in the creation and implementation of COVID-19 protocols aboard Naval vessels.

The Roosevelt’s captain at the time of the outbreak, Brett Crozier, was fired after sending a letter to Navy leadership urging assistance with the COVID-19 situation. Its eventual publication in news outlets led then-Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to fire Crozier and state his belief that Crozier purposely copied his email to unauthorized parties.

Crozier’s firing was upheld, but Modly also quickly resigned after lambasting Crozier in an address to the ship’s crew.

The ship returned to San Diego last summer following several months spent in Guam managing the ship’s outbreak.

— City News Service contributed to this article