The Navy's top officer is warning sailors to remain vigilant about their health -- even as states start or prepare to open back up -- in light of the threat the novel coronavirus poses to the force.
Sailors must continue minimizing group gatherings, wear face coverings and keep their distance as the Navy grapples with the military's highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the ranks. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told the force in a new service-wide message that following the health and safety guidelines is their "new normal."
"Take responsibility," Gilday said. "Show courage in speaking up if you see shipmates falling short. We have obligations for operational readiness and stringent requirements for health protection measures."
Gilday urging his personnel to speak up comes as lawmakers expressed concern that the firing of Navy Capt. Brett Crozier had a chilling effect on the rest of the force. Crozier served as the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which saw a big outbreak of COVID-19.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said he was concerned about the fallout from that decision during the Senate Armed Services Committee's Thursday nomination hearing for Navy secretary nominee Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite.
"I welcome your commitment to changing the culture and eliminating any possible perception on the part of our sailors that there is a culture of retaliation against reporting instances of questionable judgment or, for example, infection on any of our ships with COVID-19," Blumenthal told Braithwaite.
The Navy as of Thursday had 2,125 COVID-19 cases among uniformed personnel. That's more than double the Army's cases despite the Navy having about 140,000 fewer personnel. About half of the Navy's cases are among the Roosevelt's crew.
Even as state and local officials begin reopening their communities during the coronavirus pandemic, Gilday said sailors must continue focusing on their safety, as well as that of their families.
"It is vitally important for every individual to take personal responsibility to minimize risk to themselves, to their loved ones, as well as to the members of our team who may be more susceptible," the CNO said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that the Defense Department is working on guidance for base commanders running installations in states that are lifting stay-at-home orders.