Navy Secures Enough COVID-19 Tests for Nimitz Strike Group Ahead of Deployment; Makin Island Completes Drills During Pandemic

April 21, 2020 6:10 PM - Updated: April 21, 2020 8:47 PM
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Christian Smania cleans a cover plate for a wire supporter on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) on April 14, 2020. US Navy Photo

The Navy has secured enough COVID-19 testing kits to evaluate the almost 8,000 sailors set to deploy on the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group later this year, USNI News has learned.

“All sailors assigned to Carrier Strike Group 11 staffs and units are being tested for COVID-19 prior to follow-on operational tasking,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. John Fage told USNI News on Tuesday.
“All units will remain in their current locations until testing is complete and it is verified there are no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among embarked or embarking sailors.”

The measure is the latest to prevent a repeat outbreak that sidelined carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in Guam as the Navy continues to purge the virus from the ship and crew. As of Tuesday, 94 percent of Roosevelt sailors have been tested for COVID-19, resulting in 710 total positive cases with nine hospitalized and one death.

Prior to securing the kits, the Navy was relying on extensive medical checks and a 14-day isolation period to keep the virus off the carrier due to a lack of testing capacity.

In Bremerton, Wash., the crew of USS Nimitz (CVN-68) has been sequestered inside the carrier since the beginning of April in anticipation of getting underway later this month. Likewise, Carrier Air Wing 17, the command staff of CSG 11 and crews of the planned carrier escorts have been isolated in California ahead of the strike group assembling.

On April 10, the Pentagon was unsure it would have enough testing kits to ensure the carrier, the air wing and escorts were free of COVID-19.

“Right now there is a finite capability in terms of kits, the reagents and supplies you need, and so in that environment we want to make sure we devote those finite resources at the highest priority, and that is to test those showing symptoms, who we need to immediately treat and immediately isolate,” Thomas McCaffery, the assistant Secretary of Defense for health affairs, said during a media briefing.

USS San Diego (LPD-22) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) conduct routine operations in the eastern Pacific on April 7, 2020. US Navy Photo

Ahead of the planned Nimitz CSG deployment, the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group was the first major formation to attempt an exercise under restrictions to prevent outbreaks of the virus.

The three-ship ARG departed from San Diego weeks ahead of its original plan in order to decrease the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Since early April, the ARG has operated in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

When the nearly 2,000 crew members boarded the Makin Island ARG ships at the end of March, they were screened for COVID-19 symptoms and restricted from leaving their ships while pier-side, according to the Navy.

According to ship spotters, USS Makin Island (LHD-8), USS Somerset (LPD-25), USS San Diego (LPD-22) and Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS-1) were lingering off the coast of California this weekend. The formation had been conducting a Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise, which finished Friday.

“This advanced tactical exercise was the most demanding we’ve had to date for the surface force as we navigated being able to safely execute this critical training amidst the challenges presented by COVID-19,” Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, the commander of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, said in a news release.
“The ultimate intent was to increase the lethality and combat power of naval surface forces by preparing our units to do what warships are designed to do — fight and win at sea — and that’s exactly what was accomplished here.”

Makin Island, Somerset, San Diego and Freedom conducted anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, air defense and amphibious warfare exercises as part of the SWATT. The ships conducted live-fire events including missile, torpedo and gunnery exercises, according to U.S. Pacific Fleet.

As of Tuesday, 1,252 sailors have tested positive for COVID-19 cases across the fleet.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox