8 sailors test positive as military readiness is affected

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WASHINGTON – The Navy on Wednesday diagnosed five more sailors with COVID-19 aboard the 5,000-member USS Theodore Roosevelt, bringing the total to eight with the illness, according to Navy Cdr. Clay Doss, a Navy spokesman. 

The Navy plans to airlift the five newly diagnosed sailors from the ship, which is operating in the Pacific, Doss said. Officials aboard the Roosevelt are still determining if the coronavirus has spread to more sailors.

“They’re doing everything they can to isolate anyone who had contact with those sailors and prevent further spread,” Doss said.  

The sailors became ill while at sea, raising questions about further spread of the highly contagious disease and the overall strain of the pandemic on military readiness.

The Pentagon already has canceled or curtailed major war-training exercises, quarantined thousands of troops, closed recruiting centers and slapped limits on foreign and domestic travel.  

Defense Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged Tuesday that readiness, the term the military uses to gauge its ability to fight, has been affected by coronavirus. Several major training operations have been canceled since the pandemic swept around the globe.

The Pentagon remains capable of meeting any threats, he said.

Last year, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escorts participated in Exercise Northern Edge, a major Army, Navy and Air Force exercise held in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Roosevelt had been at Danang, Vietnam, 15 days ago for a port visit. The sick sailors have been flown from the ship to a military hospital in the Pacific region, Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, said on Tuesday.

Gilday declined to say how many others had been in contact with the ill sailors, saying he did not want to signal vulnerability to adversaries. 

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