Home/Daniel Larison/The TR’s Cleanup Crews Need Protective Equipment Now

The TR’s Cleanup Crews Need Protective Equipment Now

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is moored pier side at Naval Station North Island (2016) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jimmi Lee Bruner/Released)

The story of the coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt has not ended. The San Francisco Chroniclereports today that the sailors given the job of running and cleaning the ship lack proper protective equipment, and they are reduced to using T-shirts as masks:

As the Navy races to contain a coronavirus outbreak on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, sailors left onboard to maintain and disinfect the ship are doing so with minimal protective equipment, fashioning homemade masks out of T-shirts at the direction of the Pentagon.

Some are working while they await test results, not knowing if they are spreading or catching the virus.

Multiple family members of sailors aboard the carrier confirmed to The Chronicle that their relatives were making face coverings of what they had on hand, including torn T-shirts. The Pentagon has ordered military members to cover their faces when they can’t maintain safe physical distance, but has not widely distributed masks or other personal protective equipment.

Roosevelt sailors were given latex gloves to use while cleaning the ship but little else, family members said. Sailors quarantined onshore in Guam also have little or no protective equipment, one Roosevelt crew member said.

The point of evacuating most of the crew and cleaning the ship is to reduce the spread of the virus, but if the sailors that remain on board lack the proper protection that makes it much more likely that hundreds more sailors will be needlessly infected. Getting protective equipment to the sailors remaining on the carrier ought to be a top priority for the Navy, and it is unacceptable that they don’t already have this equipment as they do this dangerous work. You wouldn’t ask people fighting a fire to do it without appropriate protection, but on the carrier and in hospitals all over this country people are being made to work in dangerous conditions without the necessary gear. Failing to provide protective equipment means that many more sailors will likely get sick, and that means that it will take that much longer for the ship to get underway again.

The military does not lack the supplies to provide the sailors with protective equipment, but that equipment is still not getting to them:

San Mateo Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Chronicle that she was “extremely disappointed” with the Navy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been told that they have adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), but if they have adequate PPE, why wasn’t there a sufficient amount flown out to the Teddy Roosevelt?” she said.

The Chronicle‘s report is a good example of how journalism is often essential to getting sailors and soldiers the equipment and help that they need more quickly. If not for the original report in the Chronicle last week, the situation on board the carrier might not have received the attention it deserved. If not for this report the unacceptable working conditions on board the ship might not have come to light. There needs to be this follow-up reporting to make sure that the help that the sailors were promised last week actually arrives. Unfortunately, the effort to get the crew the help they need seems to have slowed:

“Their jobs can put them in harm’s way at times, but they understand and prepare for those situations. This has been different,” said one family member, who like other relatives spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals against Roosevelt sailors.

When The Chronicle reported that the Roosevelt’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, had pleaded with superiors for help evacuating the vessel in Guam, “I felt relieved that they would get the resources they needed and things seemed to move forward quickly,” the family member said. “But it feels like it has lost momentum. … I do have faith they will get through this, and I know many are working hard supporting that effort.”

Only 2,000 sailors have been evacuated so far, and more than 200 have already tested positive for the virus. The number of sailors evacuated to Guam is much lower than what the captain was talking about in his letter last week, and keeping so many on board represents an ongoing risk to their safety. Congress and the press need to keep shining a light on this situation until more sailors are evacuated and the sailors working on the carrier get the equipment they need to ensure their safety as the ship is being cleaned.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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