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Navy opening full investigation of coronavirus outbreak on USS Theodore Roosevelt

U.S. Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Brian Miller disinfects a berthing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on April 12. (Seaman Apprentice Kaylianna Geni/AP)

The U.S. Navy will open a full investigation of the coronavirus outbreak aboard an aircraft carrier, acting Navy secretary James McPherson said Wednesday, days after the service’s top officer recommended the reinstatement of a captain who raised concerns about the handling of the issue.

McPherson said Wednesday that after carefully reviewing a preliminary inquiry into what happened, he has “unanswered questions” that “can only be answered by a deeper review.”

“This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt,” McPherson said in a statement.

The statement did detail McPherson’s questions, and Navy officials did not offer clarification Wednesday morning. It was not immediately clear who will lead the investigation for Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations.

The outbreak on the ship in the Pacific had resulted in 940 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 recovered cases so far among a crew of more than 4,800, the Navy said. The virus began spreading after a port visit to Vietnam in early March, although Navy officials have said the outbreak could have originated with a resupply flight to the carrier.

As the outbreak spread among the crew, Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer, sent an email to three admirals with a memo attached raising concerns as the ship arrived in Guam for quarantining, testing and cleaning.

“I fully realize that I bear responsibility for not demanding more decisive action the moment we pulled in, but at this point my only priority is the continued well-being of the crew and embarked staff,” Crozier wrote in the March 30 email, later obtained by The Washington Post. “I believe if there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career.”

The memo attached to the email leaked to the media and was initially published in the San Francisco Chronicle a day later. Crozier wrote in it that “decisive action is required."

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly removed Crozier from his job April 2, saying the captain had not safeguarded his message to senior Navy officials and had shown poor judgment. Modly resigned on April 7 after traveling from Washington to Guam and delivering a speech over the Theodore Roosevelt’s loudspeaker in which he insulted Crozier and lectured the crew for supporting him.

Gilday recommended Crozier be reinstated last week, following the preliminary inquiry. But McPherson and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper sought more information before making a decision.

President Trump initially criticized Crozier for sending the memo and email to Navy officials but softened his tone when videos emerged showing the ship’s crew cheering Crozier off the ship after he was relieved of command. Trump said that he did not “want to destroy somebody for having a bad day,” and that he might intervene in the case.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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