Navy Captain Carlos Sardiello said on Monday that the USS Theodore Roosevelt will set sail with a reduced crew of about 3,000, leaving the remaining 1,800 sailors behind on shore in quarantine.
More than 1,000 sailors tested positive for the coronavirus on the ship over the past two months, forcing the entire crew into quarantine in alternate shifts before being allowed to reboard.
“We’re at the time where expect the unexpected and deal with it. There’s no good news. There’s no bad news. It’s Covid and we don’t understand it completely,” Capt Sardiello said.
“We’re executing according to plan to return to sea, and fighting through the virus is a part of that.”
Fourteen sailors recently tested positive for the disease just days after getting cleared to return to the carrier and will be forced to remain in quarantine alongside those they came into contact with.
According to anonymous US officials, the vessel expected to leave in the next few days, but Capt Sardiello would not discuss timelines or planned operations.
Officials also said that if everything goes as planned the ship is set to conduct naval operations in the Pacific region for some period of time before heading back to San Diego.
Capt Sardiello also said that he could not say for sure if the carrier would be able to conduct missions following its two-month setback.
“Do I have a crystal ball? I do not. But I think we have set the conditions for a high probability of success, and we’re going to go to sea and do our mission,” he said.
Capt Sardiello was abruptly sent to take command of the ship in April after its previous Captain, Brett Crozier, was fired for urging commanders to take measures to stem the virus onboard.
The Navy’s top officer Adm Mike Gilday recommended that Mr Crozier be reinstated after a preliminary review. However, the Navy decided to conduct a broader investigation.
The ship will return to sea with added requirements to help stem outbreaks such as masks, constant cleaning and social distancing.
“Half the crew would, I’m sure, be happy to just sail straight home to San Diego once we’re ready," Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Daniel Wright said.
However, he added that for some sailors this may be their first or last deployment, so “to be able to finish something that they started back in January — it’s a good milestone for all of us to shoot for.”
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.
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