U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet has Two Potential Outbreaks of COVID-19

VCOVID-19 in US 5h Fleet
USS San Diego in the Indian Ocean in January 2021 - (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Kassie McDole)

Published Mar 1, 2021 3:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

A year into the pandemic, the U.S. Navy reports that its 5th Fleet is responding to outbreaks of the virus on two vessels both operating in the Persian Gulf region. The Navy is following the protocols developed last year after the first outbreaks of the virus aboard its ships that drew worldwide attention.

As of the last report, approximately a dozen service members aboard the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego tested positive for COVID-19. The San Diego is docked in Bahrain and all of the sailors who tested positive are being isolated on board. The port visit and medical support have been coordinated with the host nation government and Bahrain Ministry of Health.

Under the protocols developed after the cases aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Kidd last spring, the San Diego has become a restricted COVID bubble with ongoing mitigation efforts. In addition to the crew that tested positive for the virus, personnel identified as having close contact have also been isolated on board. The intent is to treat all of the infected sailors with the ship’s medical capabilities, which include a medical staff, a hospital isolation ward, and operating rooms. 

The 5th Fleet is also investigating a possible second outbreak of the virus aboard one of its ships which was at sea. The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea identified several persons for investigation as possibly having been exposed to the virus. Unlike the San Diego, this vessel has a smaller onboard medical capability. The Navy reported that it was expected to enter an unspecified port to conduct testing and determine if medical treatment was required.

Medical health professionals are also conducting a thorough contact investigation to determine the source of COVID-19 aboard the ships and whether any other personnel may have been exposed.

Despite the Navy’s efforts, the fleet has continued to contend with outbreaks of the virus. A year ago, the USS Theodore Roosevelt made headlines around the world as the aircraft carrier became the first ship to experience a significant outbreak. Ultimately it was believed that more than 1,000 crew members tested positive for the virus forcing the carrier to dock in Guam, transfer personnel ashore, and remain off duty for weeks. 

While the Navy was managing that case, the guided missile cruiser USS Kidd also reported an outbreak of the virus. That vessel returned to San Diego where at least 78 of its sailors were treated for the virus.

Since the early incidents, the U.S. Navy has however become more effective at identifying and isolating potential cases of the virus. Two weeks ago, they reported that three sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt had tested positive for the virus and were placed in isolation. However, in February they also reported that the nineteenth serviceman, a sailor assigned to the nuclear ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee, had died from complications related to COVID-19. 

While the Navy and all branches of the military have been guarded with the full details of the impact of the virus, it is believed that more than 140,000 servicemen have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past year.