How an Island Oasis Became the Navy’s Coronavirus Epicenter

Strapped by the same problems facing health care workers around the world, including a limited supply of personal protective equipment, hospital beds and ventilators, Guam’s government now had to contend with how it would protect its own people and simultaneously support the Navy. “They’re the ones that are out there, protecting our waters,” Leon Guerrero said. With about two dozen Guam residents serving aboard the carrier, finding space was the “least we could do.”

When the Theodore Roosevelt arrived at Naval Base Guam, it brought not only a ship full of sick crew members, but a brewing political scandal. The ship’s commander, Capt. Brett E. Crozier, emailed a letter dated March 30 to at least 20 Navy officials about the Navy’s failures to support the aircraft carrier’s efforts to contain the outbreak, and it quickly leaked to the press. The controversy led to the swift removal of Crozier from command, followed by an impromptu trip to the Theodore Roosevelt by acting Navy secretary Thomas B. Modly, who gave a 15-minute speech to the ship’s crew during which he referred to Crozier as “naïve or stupid.” By the end of the week, Modly had resigned after his remarks prompted backlash from lawmakers, retired military leaders and the rank and file.

All the while, the carrier’s reported coronavirus cases have continued to climb. As of Friday, there were 447 infected sailors, one of whom is Crozier himself. A sailor who had been in isolation was admitted to intensive care at the base hospital on Thursday after he was found unresponsive.

If the number of sailors who require hospitalization grows, the base could quickly run out of space to provide proper treatment. Naval Hospital Guam has six I.C.U. beds and at least 15 ventilators, according to the Navy. An additional 12 acute care beds and six critical care beds with ventilators were added in the past two weeks. On base, the elementary and secondary schools, the gym, the Navy Lodge and some older barracks have been converted to housing for sick sailors. About 230 sailors and Marines from a Japan-based medical battalion arrived on the island earlier this week to help the Navy’s medical staff test and treat sailors.

The Navy is in the process of testing every sailor on board, with results taking up to 96 hours. On Friday, a 20-year-old sailor who had been tested a few days earlier was still awaiting her results. For now, she spends part of her day cleaning the ship, a task for which she is issued gloves and a mask. With so many members of the crew off the boat, social distancing is easier. But her worries about her own test results are compounded by the concern she has for her family in New York, the current epicenter of the virus, and for her shipmates, including her former captain, who has become a symbol of strength for the crew.

“I’m angry, tired, exhausted,” she told The Times. “I just wanna give up. I’m hurting for myself, my friends, family, shipmates. I want the world to know how strong the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt is.”

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