A sailor who was aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier died Monday of COVID-19, the first fatality from nearly 600 confirmed cases among its crew, the US Navy said Monday.
The sailor, who tested positive on March 30, was discovered unresponsive on April 9 and placed in the intensive care unit of the Navy’s hospital in Guam, where the Roosevelt is docked.
The death came six days after Thomas Modly resigned as acting navy secretary over his mishandling of an outbreak on the Roosevelt, one of two US aircraft carriers in the western Pacific.
Modly had earlier fired the Roosevelt’s captain, Brett Crozier, after the officer’s warning that the shipboard outbreak could dangerously incapacitate much of the crew became public.
Crozier had sought to evacuate most of the ship’s 4,800 crew after it stopped in Guam on March 27, to test all of them and sterilize the vessel, but the idea was rejected by his superiors.
With the number of proven cases approaching 100, on March 30 the veteran captain wrote an unclassified, widely-distributed letter addressed to his superiors that quickly leaked to his hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle.
“The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”
Both Modly and Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed anger that Crozier had violated the Pentagon’s chain of command, and they insinuated that the leak to the media was deliberate.
They were also concerned that he had exposed a vulnerability in US military readiness that could encourage adversaries to take advantage.
Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis” in his handling of the letter, Modly said.
“It misrepresented the facts of what was going on the ship” and created “a little bit of panic” that was unnecessary, he said.
But the number of COVID-19 cases aboard the ship has continued to mount.
With 92 percent of the crew tested, 585 have been infected with the virus, according to the Navy on Monday.
Modly removed Crozier from his command on April 2.
– ‘Naive or stupid’ –
But the acting Navy secretary then faced a challenge from multiple videos appearing on social media that showed large numbers from the Roosevelt’s crew applauding Crozier and chanting his name as he walked alone down the gangway onto shore in Guam.
The controversial firing sparked questions over whether and why the Navy hierarchy had ignored Crozier’s internal requests to evacuate the warship, as coronavirus cases were cropping up on military bases and vessels elsewhere.
After firing Crozier, Modly flew to Guam where he boarded the ship and told the crew in a profanity-laced speech that their love for Crozier was misguided, calling him “too naive or too stupid.”
Those comments exploded in the US media even before Modly returned to the United States, and, having sparked a fresh political firestorm over the handling of the pandemic by the administration of President Donald Trump, he resigned.
He was the second permanent or acting navy secretary in six months to depart.
His predecessor was fired after clashing with Trump over the president’s protection of a Navy Seal who had been charged with war crimes and convicted of lesser charges.
So far some 150 US military bases and several ships, including two other aircraft carriers, have reported coronavirus cases.
Total cases among Pentagon service personnel, their families, civilians and contractors was 4,528 on Monday.
Across the United States, nearly 560,000 cases have been reported, with 22,146 deaths.