Updated at 5:08 p.m. ET
The commander of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier docked in Guam that has been struck by a coronavirus outbreak has sent the Pentagon a strongly worded plea for urgent assistance.
"The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating," USS Theodore Roosevelt commander Capt. Brett Crozier writes in a letter dated March 30. "Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and [U.S. Navy] guidance and prevent tragic outcomes."
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly confirmed on March 26 that at least eight of the Roosevelt's more than 4,000 crew members had tested positive for COVID-19, five of whom had been removed from the ship. He added that while the vessel would be docked in Guam, those aboard would not be allowed to venture beyond the pier.
Officials tell NPR that the aircraft carrier, whose home port is San Diego, now has more than 50 known cases of infected sailors.
Asked about Crozier's letter during a CNN interview Tuesday, acting Navy Secretary Modly said he appreciated the input from the ship's commander and promised that the Navy would "get to work immediately" on the issues he raised.
"We've been working actually the last several days to move those sailors off the ship and to get them into accomodations in Guam," Modly said. "The problem is that Guam doesn't have enough beds right now, and so we're having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create some tent-type facilities there."
Not all those on board the Roosevelt, he added, would be removed immediately.
"The key is to make sure that we can get a set of crew members that can man all those critical functions on the ship, make sure they're clean, get them back on, clean the ship, and get the other crew members off," he told CNN. "And that's the process we're going through. It's very methodical. We're absolutely accelerating it as we go."
In a statement e-mailed to NPR, the Navy had this response to Crozier's letter: "Navy leadership is moving quickly to take all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt, and is pursuing options to address the concerns raised by the commanding officer."
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