The strange and murky saga of the USS Theodore Roosevelt takes another turn this week as the virus-stricken aircraft carrier heads back into the ocean after nearly two months in port.
The nuclear-powered carrier normally carries some 4,800 crew, but some 1,800 will remain in quarantine in Guam when the Roosevelt departs the island for a few weeks of exercises, followed by a short return to Guam to pick up the quarantined sailors and a trip home to San Diego.
It will also have a new, perhaps temporary, captain after the April drama in which Capt. Brett Crozier was removed from his post and was cheered by his crew as he departed. The acting Navy secretary who fired Crozier was himself forced to resign after calling Crozier “stupid” and “naive” in a speech broadcast to the carrier crew, and a preliminary Navy review recommended that Crozier be reinstated at the helm of the Roosevelt. That recommendation was set aside pending a more thorough review of how Crozier’s superiors handled his reports of a growing health issue on the carrier. That review is expected by the end of the month.
As if all this weren’t disruptive enough, a few members of the Roosevelt’s crew — reportedly 14 — who had tested positive for the coronavirus, gone through quarantine and tested negative at least twice, have now come up positive again.
The presumption is that they either had a false negative when they were cleared or a false positive on a later test. Certainly there will be some of both in any group of 5,000 or so tests. Another possibility, more worrisome but less likely, is that the immunity acquired after recovering from the virus can be extremely short-lived.
Navies have, of course, long known that ships can be gas cans for infectious diseases. That the situation on the Roosevelt got so out of hand is distressing. More distressing is the possibility that it got out of hand because top brass feared angering the commander-in-chief by taking seriously a virus he was dismissing out of hand.
The Navy needs a functioning Theodore Roosevelt. It needs even more a functioning chain of command. The pending report may cast some light on that issue.