Navy Carrier Theodore Roosevelt Back at Sea After Coronavirus Outbreak

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A sailor organizes cargo retrieval cables on the flight deck after MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters assigned to the Sea Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 transfers cargo to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt
A sailor organizes cargo retrieval cables on the flight deck after MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters assigned to the Sea Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 transfers cargo to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a vertical replenishment with the Military Sealift Command combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8). Theodore Roosevelt is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations conducting maritime security operations. (Anna Van Nuys/U.S. Navy)

The Navy ship at the center of the service's coronavirus battle has returned to sea after spending nearly two months in Guam as COVID-19 spread among the crew.

The carrier Theodore Roosevelt left Naval Base Guam on Thursday local time, the Navy announced Wednesday night. The ship is now in the Philippine Sea where the embarked carrier air wing is conducting qualification flights.

"It feels great to be back at sea," Rear Adm. Stu Baker, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9, said in a statement. "Getting Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Air Wing 11 one step closer to returning to their mission in the Indo-Pacific is a great achievement for the crew."

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The ship has been in Guam since March 27. More than 2,900 members of the roughly 4,800-person crew had returned to the ship as of Monday, according to a Navy news release. When announcing the Roosevelt's return to sea, officials said it went out with "scaled manning."

"We are scaling our manning on board based on our mission requirement," Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the carrier's new commanding officer, said. "Carrier qualification requires fewer personnel than other missions, and bringing fewer sailors on board will enable enhanced social distancing while underway."

The Roosevelt was deployed in the Pacific in March, when COVID-19, the sometimes-fatal illness caused by the coronavirus, began to spread on the ship. The commanding officer at the time, Capt. Brett Crozier, later wrote a letter pleading with Navy leaders to evacuate the bulk of the crew over fears that the virus could lead to sailors' deaths.

The letter's publication by the San Francisco Chronicle eventually led then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to fire Crozier. Modly, who later resigned over backlash for Crozier's relief and follow-on actions, claimed the captain sent the letter to 20 or 30 people. The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of Crozier's email, showed Crozier had emailed the letter to 10 people, most of whom were in his chain of command.

Crozier would become one of more than 1,100 Theodore Roosevelt crew members to test positive for COVID-19. One of those sailors, Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., died from the illness. Thacker was 41.

Navy leaders initially recommended that Crozier be reinstated as the carrier's commanding officer. The service is now conducting a more thorough investigation into the situation surrounding his relief.

Most of the crew was moved off the ship and into isolation on Guam in April while the carrier was disinfected "from bow to stern," according to the Navy.

The sailors aboard the ship now practice social distancing, wear masks, adjust meal hours, limit in-person meetings and sanitize spaces, the news release on its departure states. The crew held a safety stand down last week and simulated a departure this week.

Last week, five sailors on the carrier had to be moved back off the ship after testing positive for COVID-19 a second time. That was despite testing negative twice in a row before being allowed to get back on the ship.Medical experts say it remains unclear if having COVID-19 gives a person immunity to the virus.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: Navy Orders Deeper Investigation into Crozier Firing Over 'Unanswered Questions'

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