The number of crewmembers on nuclear-powered aircraft carrier who have tested positive for the coronavirus has risen to 155, the Navy said on Saturday. The new numbers, which mark a 13% increase in 24 hours, were announced two days after the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s captain was fired.
The Navy said 44% of the carrier’s 4,800 sailors had been tested for COVID-19 and 1,548 sailors from the crew have moved ashore. No sailors have been hospitalized.
The ship’s commander, Captian Brett Crozier, was fired on Thursday after writing a scathing letter, imploring the Navy to take stronger action to halt the spread of the virus aboard the ship.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis. He said the captain copied too many people on the memo, which was leaked to a California newspaper and quickly spread to many news outlets.
Modly’s decision to remove Crozier as ship commander was immediately condemned by members of the House Armed Services Committee, who called it a “destabilizing move” that will “likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardize our fleet’s readiness.”
Modly told Pentagon reporters during an abruptly called press conference Thursday that Crozier should have gone directly to his immediate commanders, who were already moving to help the ship. And he said Crozier created a panic by suggesting 50 sailors could die.
“What it does, it undermines our efforts and the chain of command’s efforts to address this problem and creates a panic and creates the perception that the Navy is not on the job, the government is not on the job, and it’s just not true,” Modly said.
He complained that Crozier sent the memo to people outside his chain of command and in a non-secure, unclassified email. And, he said he concluded that the captain’s ability to react professionally was overwhelmed by the virus challenge, “when acting professionally was what was needed most. We do, and we should, expect more from the commanding officers of our aircraft carriers.”
Earlier this week, Modly told reporters that Crozier would not be relieved of duty for trying to protect his sailors, but he left the door open for punishment if the captain leaked the memo to the press. On Thursday, Modly said he has no information to suggest that Crozier leaked the memo to the press.
He said that if Crozier had communicated only with his leadership and not widely distributed the memo, he would likely still have a job. He took sole responsibility for the decision to fire Crozier and said he got no pressure from the White House to do so.
Democrats on the House committee issued a joint statement in support of Crozier. They said that while the captain went outside his chain of command, the pandemic presents a new set of challenges.
“Captain Crozier was justifiably concerned about the health and safety of his crew, but he did not handle the immense pressure appropriately,” the lawmakers said. “However, relieving him of his command is an overreaction.”
Videos released Friday show Crozier was cheered by hundreds of sailors as he left the USS Roosevelt docked in Guam after his controversial firing. The crew of the Roosevelt openly signaled their support in videos taken from the ship as he strode alone solemnly down the gangway, saluting briefly to the crew before getting into a waiting car on the pier.
“Captain Crozier, Captain Crozier,” sailors on the deck of the warship chanted as they clapped.
“That’s how you send out one of the greatest captains you ever had,” an unidentified person can be heard saying on one of the videos posted on social media.