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Coronavirus cases on USS Theodore Roosevelt spike to 550

Esper on fallout from Navy captain's firing
Defense Secretary Esper reacts to fallout from Navy Captain Crozier firing 06:44

The U.S. Navy on Saturday confirmed 103 new cases of the coronavirus onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, bringing the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier's positive cases to 550. The ship's outbreak has been in the spotlight since Captain Brett Crozier sent a memo pleading for help before being fired, leading to the acting Secretary of the Navy resigning in response. 

"As of today, 92% of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crewmembers have been tested for COVID-19, with 550 positive and 3,673 negative results,"  the Navy said in a press release Saturday. The Navy said that in response, 3,696 sailors have moved ashore, which includes 518 who were taken off the ship since Friday. 

In new COVID-19 guidance issued on Friday, the Navy said "individuals identified as having confirmed or probable COVID-19 will be placed under isolation and evacuated off the ship as soon as practical if developing more severe symptoms." The Navy added that "the majority of COVID-19 patients will have mild symptoms and can remain on ship and be monitored until meeting return to work criteria."

The ship's outbreak first gained attention after it was exposed by Crozier in March.

Crozier sent a memo to more than 20 people pleading for help when only dozens of people onboard the ship had tested positive for the virus. The captain compared the situation on board his ship to outbreaks on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, but said the Roosevelt's close quarters would make containing the virus nearly impossible.

"The Diamond Princess was able to more effectively isolate people onboard than TR, due to a much higher percentage of individualized and compartmentalized accommodations onboard for paying customers," Crozier wrote. "Their measures still allowed hundreds of people to become infected. TR's best-case results, given the current environment, are likely to be much worse."

 That memo made its way to The San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported the story on March 31.  

Sailors cheer for ousted aircraft carrier captain 01:19

In his memo, Crozier urged that about 90% of the ship's over 4,000 sailors be moved ashore, and into quarantine. While he noted the significance of his request, Crozier said that "decisive action is required." Crozier was later relieved of his command by the Navy. 

"Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. A portion of the crew (approximately 10%) would have to stay aboard to run the reactor plant, sanitize the ship, ensure security, and provide for contingency response to emergencies. This is a necessary risk," he wrote. 

"Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those sailors entrusted to our care."

Then-acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said the captain went outside the chain of command by not bringing his concerns to his direct superior. In an address obtained by The Chronicle and the website Task & Purpose, Modly can be heard telling sailors that Crozier was either "too naive or too stupid" to lead the ship if he thought the alarming memo wouldn't become public. Days later, after a recording of the address became public, Modly resigned.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on "CBS This Morning" on Friday that a reinstatement of Crozier is not off the table, and no decision will be made until an investigation is complete.  

"When I replaced the acting Navy secretary three days ago, I called him and the chief of naval operations into my office. I gave them some guidance. One of the things I told them is this: No further action will be taken against Captain Crozier until the investigation is completed, and once that's completed, we'll see where that takes us," Esper said. 

"So we've taken nothing off the table. What I look to do is hear from the chain of command. My inclination is always to support the chain of command and to take their recommendation seriously. We'll see how that plays out. At some point here in the coming days, they will come to me and share with me their findings and their recommendations," he said. 

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