Pentagon watchdog to evaluate Navy’s response to coronavirus on ships

The Pentagon’s inspector general will evaluate the Navy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic onboard its ships, according to a memo released Monday.

“The objective of this evaluation is to determine whether the Navy has implemented policies and procedures to prevent and mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, such as coronavirus-disease-2019 (COVID-19), on ships and submarine,” said the memo from Randolph Stone, assistant inspector general for evaluations of space, intelligence, engineering and oversight.

“In addition, we will determine whether mitigation measures that are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 were implemented across the fleet,” the memo added.

The evaluation, which will start this month, will be conducted at “relevant offices” in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet. Meetings and discussions will be done by video and teleconference “due to the current health protection condition level,” the memo said.

The Navy has come under fire for its handling of the pandemic after an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

The former commander of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after a letter he wrote pleading for help with the outbreak leaked in the media. The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, later resigned after he gave a speech aboard the ship berating Crozier.

The Navy is conducting its own investigation into the outbreak on the Roosevelt. Right now, it is in the midst of a broader investigation after the service’s preliminary investigation ended in April with the recommendation to reinstate Crozier.

After Crozier’s firing, several Democrats requested the inspector general also investigate the situation on the Roosevelt.

“Given the concerns for the health and safety of the sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, in addition to the potential for future COVID-19 outbreaks on other ships and submarines, we urge you to investigate the Navy’s response to this outbreak to evaluate whether the Navy is implementing all appropriate precautionary measures and best-practices to protect the safety of our fleet,” 17 Democratic senators wrote in a letter in early April.

More than 1,000 sailors from the Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam since late March, have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

A second Navy ship that had been at sea, the USS Kidd destroyer, has also seen a coronavirus outbreak. More than 60 sailors were diagnosed with the virus at the last official count. The ship, which had been operating near Central America for counterdrug operations, docked in San Diego in late April to deal with the outbreak.

Last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper argued a Navy ship at sea is the safest place to be during the pandemic, citing the fact that only the Roosevelt and the Kidd are known to have had coronavirus outbreaks out of the more than 90 deployed Navy vessels.

“The statistics show that the safest place to be is on a deployed Navy ship as compared to one that is in port,” Esper said during a webinar hosted by the Brookings Institution. “Two ships out of I think 94, that’s a pretty good record.”

Tags Mark Esper

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