After a disastrous couple of weeks for the US Navy which not only saw a nuclear aircraft carrier be diverted from its mission over coronavirus aboard the ship, but witnessed an embarrassing public spat over the dismissal of the USS Theodore Roosevelt's Captain Brett Crozier, itself leading to the resignation of Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, an outbreak may have struck another major carrier crew.
On Thursday the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten warned of a new coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Nimitz nuclear supercarrier at a moment the vessel is scheduled for deployment to the Pacific region.
"There's been a very small number of breakouts on the Nimitz, and we're watching that very closely," Gen. Hyten said during a Pentagon briefing, indicating the sailors had "been isolated on the ship."
Given the very public crisis the much bigger outbreak aboard the USS Roosevelt created, now with at least 416 COVID-19 positive cases, it will be interesting to see whether the Nimitz actually delays embarking on its mission from Bremerton, Washington - which is where the ship is based.
At this point it appears only two of the ship's crew have been treated for COVID-19 symptoms, while a third has also been tested but as yet unconfirmed. Hyten expressed the Navy is extremely wary and is taking heightened precautions given the tight close-quarters aboard its vessels, with sometimes up to two dozen sailors bunking in a single room.
Alarmingly, Gen. Hyten had discussed contingency plans should the outbreak spread among the crew: "Not enough local hotel space exists in Bremerton, Washington, where the ship is based, for its commanders to quarantine crew members, so they're attempting to isolate them on board, the general said."
Military Times reports that commanders have already slightly altered the carrier's operations out of an abundance of caution:
On April 1, the ship went into what the Navy calls "fast cruise" status, in which no one on board was allowed to disembark for any reason. Anyone who must come aboard – such as a specialist to fix a broken piece of equipment – must first undergo medical testing and wear a protective mask while on the ship.
Other ships are also being monitored, after at the end of last month the USS Ronald Reagan also reportedly had at least two sailors that tested positive for COVID-19.
In that case Fox News cited unnamed US officials while the Pentagon was not forthcoming in acknowledging the reported cases.
It was also unclear whether the individuals were actually part of the Yokosuka base in Japan, which had earlier gone on lockdown over outbreak fears.