This post was updated with a statement from U.S. 3rd Fleet.
Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) departed Bremerton, Wash., on Monday for its final pre-deployment training event, in what is the Navy’s first real test of its plan to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among deploying crews.
Nimitz will likely remain at sea after completing its Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) off the coast of San Diego and not return to port ahead of its deployment as a way to reduce the risk of exposing the crew to the COVID-19 virus, USNI News understands.
After this post, U.S. 3rd Fleet issued a press release and statement about Nimitz’s departure.
“Dealing with the challenges of the COVID pandemic has been difficult, so I’m very pleased that our mitigation efforts have put us in a position to get underway,” said a statement from Capt. Max Clark, the commanding officer of Nimitz.
The COMPTUEX is designed to integrate the different members of a carrier strike group into a cohesive unit. The exercises test the strike group’s ability to undertake multiple missions and carry out sustained combat operations from the sea, according to the Navy.
Two weeks ago, the Navy confirmed USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and its escorts were remaining at sea off the coast of Norfolk to both lower the risk of an outbreak of the virus on the ships and to preserve U.S. offensive power.
The Navy had secured enough COVID-19 test kits to evaluate the nearly 8,000 sailors of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group. Navy officials previously told USNI News they planned test crew members before deploying.
The Navy wants to avoid a situation where personnel carry COVID-19 onboard when embarking on the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group ships.
The crew of Nimitz has been isolated inside the carrier since the beginning of April in anticipation of getting underway this month. Likewise, Carrier Air Wing 17, the command staff of Carrier Strike Group 11 and crews of the planned carrier escorts have been isolated in California ahead of the strike group assembling in San Diego.
The following ships and units are scheduled to join the Nimitz CSG to conduct the COMPTUEX: guided-missile cruisers USS Princeton (CG-59), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53), USS Sterett (DDG-104), USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) and Carrier Air Wing 17 and its associated squadrons and personnel from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Wash., NAS Lemoore, Calif., NAS North Island, Calif., and Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.
A COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) sidelined the carrier in Guam and required offloading most of the crew. As of Monday, the Navy reported 955 active COVID-19 cases among the Theodore Roosevelt crew. The Navy also reported that 14 sailors who tested positive for COVID-19 have since recovered. One Theodore Roosevelt crew member died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The Navy is trying to curb a growing outbreak of COVID-19 on deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG-100). Before working with U.S. Southern Command on counter-narcotics operations, Kidd had been part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group.