USS Roosevelt Sailors Continue to Test Positive After 14 Days

Sailor disinfecting a berthing area aboard USS Roosevelt (USN)

Published Apr 21, 2020 6:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Sailors from the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt are still returning new positive test results for the novel coronavirus even though they have passed the end of the standard 14-day quarantine period, according to a memo obtained by Politico. 

“Results of out-testing portions of the TR crew following 14 days of quarantine leads us to reevaluate our assessment of how the virus can remain active in an asymptomatic host,” a Navy official wrote in a directive to the Roosevelt's crew. “While further assessment is made regarding test-out procedures, I am directing a halt to all crew out-testing and holding any release from isolation and quarantine."

The Roosevelt's crew were originally slated to begin returning to the ship on Saturday, but that has now been pushed back as the Navy looks into how and why the virus is still popping up. For now, Roosevelt sailors will remain in quarantine while her leaders review the measures needed to keep COVID-19 off of the ship when the crew returns. 

U.S. Navy and CDC launch investigation into Roosevelt outbreak

Navy officials say that about one in ten confirmed positive cases aboard the Roosevelt were individuals who initially tested negative for COVID-19. The standard test procedure for the virus has a known false negative rate, but the Navy believes that this may say something about how the disease spread. "We have had significant numbers on the Roosevelt who originally tested negative and later tested positive, so there is a timing factor there," said Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking to CNN.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is partnering with the Navy for a study into how the virus got on board and how it spread. Part of that study will include collecting questionnaires and blood and nasal swab samples from about 1,000 Roosevelt crewmembers.

As in other shipboard infection incidents - notably the Diamond Princess and Greg Mortimer cases - asymptomatic individuals are believed to have played a key role in spreading COVID-19 on board. "That is truly one of the secret weapons of this virus. Individuals can transmit before they know they have it," Navy surgeon general Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham told reporters on Friday. "It probably passed through quite freely, and was initially unrecognized."

The results of the CDC inquiry have significant implications for the Navy's operations during the pandemic. A handful of cases have been reported aboard three other carriers - the USS Ronald Reagan (at Yokosuka), USS Nimitz (at Bremerton) and USS Carl Vinson (at Bremerton). The challenge is not limited to American forces: the French Navy is addressing a major outbreak aboard the carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has seen nearly half of the crew test positive for the disease.