The Navy appears to be taking extra precautions to ensure the next aircraft carrier crew getting underway doesn't see a repeat of the health crisis playing out on another ship in the Pacific.
Thousands of sailors assigned to the carrier Nimitz departed Bremerton, Washington, on Monday for their final pre-deployment training exercises. The entire crew was not only tested for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, but also spent 27 days quarantined before departing.
That's nearly double the 14-day period the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend for anyone at risk for developing or passing along the virus.
The Nimitz is "taking advantage of lessons learned," according to a Navy release announcing the departure, by ensuring the crew was healthy and ready to conduct operations at sea. Nearly 1,000 members of the deployed carrier Theodore Roosevelt's crew have tested positive for the virus, leading to one death and the ship being sidelined in Guam for a month.
Capt. Max Clark, commanding officer of the Nimitz, said his crew has followed the recommended guidance to remain virus-free, including wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, keeping the ship clean, getting tested and remaining in quarantine.
"Dealing with the challenges of the COVID pandemic has been difficult, so I'm very pleased that our mitigation efforts have put us in a position to get underway," Clark said in a statement. "We are all looking forward to training and operating again."
Navy leaders, particularly those on carriers and other large ships, have changed protocols after the COVID-19 outbreak on the Roosevelt. Port calls have been restricted, and onboard deliveries are handled with extreme caution, with outside pilots and crews being barred from leaving their aircraft once they land on the ship.
At least one other deployed warship, the destroyer Kidd, is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak among its crew. The Kidd is now headed back to port as leaders try to stem the spread of the virus.
The Nimitz, which will deploy alongside other ships as a carrier strike group, will be the first aircraft carrier to deploy since the outbreak on the Roosevelt was made public. Other ships and units that will complete the training and deploy with the strike group include: the guided-missile cruiser Princeton; guided-missile destroyers John Paul Jones, Sterett and Ralph Johnson; Destroyer Squadron 9; and Carrier Air Wing 17.
Every member of the strike group will be tested for COVID-19 before getting underway and will spend at least two weeks quarantined, Navy officials said.