Navy Is Hardest-Hit Military Service in Coronavirus Outbreak

Marines and sailors pre-screen for the coronavirus disease
U.S. Navy Sailors with 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, pre-screen Marines and sailors for the coronavirus disease after returning from an exercise overseas on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, March 24, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Rachel K. Young-Porter)

The Navy, which just announced its first positive novel coronavirus cases on a deployed aircraft carrier, has about a third of the military's COVID-19 patients.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Tuesday that the service had 57 cases of COVID-19. Several of those sailors are assigned to Navy warships, including three on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which is deployed in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Pentagon -- which tallies the cases among uniformed personnel, dependents, Defense Department civilians and contractors -- on Tuesday reported 174 positive COVID-19 cases among service members. Data provided by the individual services total 170 cases.

Related: Navy Reports 1st Coronavirus Cases on Deployed Warship

It's not immediately clear why the data provided by the individual services shows four fewer coronavirus cases among troops than the Pentagon data. Officials did not immediately respond to questions about the discrepancies.

Nine troops have required hospitalization for the virus, according to the Pentagon data. COVID-19 can cause acute respiratory distress and organ damage -- or in extreme cases, death. Seventeen of the troops, according to the data, have already recovered.

Behind the Navy's 57 cases, the Army and the Air Force have been the next hardest hit.

The Army has seen 44 coronavirus cases in the ranks, said Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the military's largest service. The Air Force, as of Tuesday, reported 43.

Five of the sick airmen have required hospitalization. Just one of the 43 has so far recovered from the virus.

"I am amazed how little disruption entered our programs despite all the disruption around them," Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in a statement this week. "That speaks to how creative and capable our people truly are."

The Marine Corps, the Defense Department's smallest service, has 26 coronavirus cases, said Capt. Monica Witt, a spokeswoman for that service.

The Navy's high COVID-19 cases could point to the challenges that service could face in preventing spread of the virus. Sailors are routinely working in tight spaces on ships and submarines, a point Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised during a live-streamed town hall event Tuesday about the coronavirus crisis.

"We don't live in a risk-free environment," he said. "You're not going to completely eliminate risk, but you can manage and reduce it, and that's what you've got to do."

Defense Department officials also say 61 military dependents have the virus, 59 civilian workers and 27 contractors. One of those contractors recently died from the illness.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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