WASHINGTON – Two Navy sailors have died due to complications from COVID-19, amid growing concerns about the deadly Delta variant.
A Navy reservist based in Idaho died Monday, and a doctor assigned to the Naval Medical Center at Camp Lejeune, N.C., died last Friday, bringing the total number of sailor COVID deaths to 10. The Navy identified the solders Wednesday as Master-at-Arms First Class Allen Hillman, 47, of Boise, and Capt. Corby Ropp, 48, of Camp Lejeune.
Their deaths are the first COVID-related ones in the Navy since April 29. They come as the number of active virus cases among sailors has jumped from fewer than 250 in early June to more than 800 now, according to Lt. Cdr. Patricia Kreuzberger, a spokeswoman for the Navy.
According to the Pentagon, the number of U.S. military deaths connected to the virus remains small — fewer than 30. There have been a total of almost 206,000 cases within the military as of July 21, the last date that numbers were available. Navy sailors account for more than 39,700 of those cases.
According to the Navy, Ropp, who was the head of ophthalmology and refractive surgery at the medical center, died at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. Hillman was assigned to the Navy Reserve Volunteer Training Unit in Boise.
There were no details on what variant of the virus the two sailors had or if they had been vaccinated. But the rapid rise in cases nationwide of the highly infectious delta variant has triggered a new look at possible vaccine mandates, mask requirements and increased testing.
The White House is strongly considering requiring federal employees to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise submit to regular testing and wear a mask, according to a person familiar with the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because no final decision has been made.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday reversed its masking guidelines and said all Americans living in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission rates should wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. The Pentagon on Wednesday said it would be following that guidance.
So far, the vaccine continues to be voluntary for military personnel, because it has not yet received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But officials have said there have been discussions about requiring the vaccine for troops after it is approved and is no longer under an emergency use authorization.
Asked about the vaccine Saturday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it remains voluntary and at least 70% of the force has gotten at least one dose. But, he added: “I remain very concerned about the most recent variant. It is highly transmissible. ... We’re going to continue to push hard to ensure that we’re making the vaccine available to the force. And we’re going to encourage people, our troops, to take the vaccine.”