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What the USS Roosevelt can teach us about COVID-19 spread

DETROIT – The USS Theodore Roosevelt made headlines around the world after the ship’s captain was removed for raising concerns about a growing coronavirus outbreak on board.

RELATED: Aircraft carrier returns to sea after coronavirus outbreak

Now that outbreak is helping scientists learn more about how the virus spreads in young, healthy people in very close quarters.

Update June 11, 2020: Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 59,496; Death toll now at 5,738

Of the nearly 5,000 sailors on the Roosevelt, 1,102 of them tested positive for COVID-19. Many were hospitalized and one died.

After nearly two months docked in Guam, the USS Theodore Roosevelt headed back out to sea last week to return to full duty. About 350 sailors were left in isolation on the naval base after COVID-19 infected a fifth of the ship’s original crew.

The U.S. Navy and the CDC investigated the outbreak and there are several takeaway lessons.

  • 382 crew members volunteered to participate in the investigation.
  • 76 percent were men with a median age of 30.
  • 60 percent of those had antibodies to the virus.
  • Of those infected, 1/5th reported no symptoms.

While social distancing may seem an impossibility on a naval ship, the study found it did make a difference.

  • Crew members who reported trying to observe social distancing had an infection rate of 55 percent.
  • Those that did not report social distancing had an infection rate of 70 percent.
  • 54 percent of those who avoided common areas were infected while 68 percent of those who did not.
  • 56 percent who wore a face covering were infected and 81 percent of those who did not wear a face covering were infected.

The ship has now been thoroughly sanitized and has no new cases.

There are several new procedures in place on the Roosevelt, including sailors wearing masks, eating in smaller groups and being regularly screened for symptoms.

About 350 sailors still remain in Guam and will receive medical care before being moved to the Roosevelt.

The sailors in quarantine include up to 14 who recently tested positive again for the virus, just days after getting cleared to return to the carrier.

The Roosevelt’s original captain lost his command after seeking tougher action to combat the outbreak onboard. Captain Brett Crozier was among those who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Chief of Naval Operations has recommended Crozier be reinstated. A broader investigation was completed in May, but those findings are still under review.


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