USS Milwaukee Returns to Sea After Two-Week COVID Pause
After being held in port for two weeks due to a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 days into its deployment, the USS Milwaukee returned to sea. The warship departed Naval Station Guantanamo Bay on January 3 reportedly with members of its crew still in quarantine aboard so that it could resume its deployment that includes counter-illicit drug trafficking missions in the Caribbean and the Eastern Pacific.
The U.S. Navy did not confirm the extent of the outbreak aboard the vessel, but media reports have indicated between a quarter and a third of the crew were believed to have tested positive. The vessel deployed with its normal complement of 105 sailors, plus detachments of the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron and U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement.
The vessel departed its homeport of Naval Station Mayport, Florida on December 14 for its regularly scheduled deployment. Six days later it made a planned fueling stop at Guantanamo Bay and it was during that call that the decision was made to hold the vessel at the dock due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Personnel were confined to the ship and the nearby quay.
A Navy spokesperson confirmed to The Washington Post that the vessel departed with “some sailors” isolated aboard. The Navy noted that all crew were 100 percent immunized before the deployment, but some exhibited mild symptoms once on board. During the stay in Guantanamo, the Navy also offered but did not require sailors to get booster shots. According to the spokesperson, the decision to resume the mission was made after consulting with fleet medical and public health experts.
The cases aboard the Milwaukee were believed to be among the most widespread recent outbreaks and the first instance since early in the pandemic when the Navy suspended a deployment due to the virus. From the end of March 2020 till June 2020, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was detained in Guam after the Navy’s first highly publicized outbreak which cost one sailor his life. Weeks later, the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd also suffered a widespread outbreak. The U.S. Navy enhanced its protocols, and since then has reported sporadic cases including aboard the Theodore Roosevelt as well as approximately 40 positive tests involving the USS Philippine Sea and USS San Diego early in 2021.
U.S. Navy policy requires all sailors to be vaccinated. The Navy is currently only encouraging booster shots, but it is believed they may soon make the boosters mandatory.