“With more than a year operating in the COVID environment, we have gained significant expertise” in mitigating and preventing the virus’ spread, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, said in a NAVADMIN message that was issued on Monday.
“With vaccines and CDC scientific data, we are able to relax many of the procedures we put in place and still provide for the health protection of the force.”
In addition to ending the quarantine for immunized sailors, commanding officers may allow immunized sailors making port calls in overseas safe haven ports like Guam, Bahrain, Yokosuka, Rota or Sasebo to use base services. The services include gyms, laundry facilities, commissaries and other amenities.
The message said, if traveling outside the continental United States and the host nation requires an in-country quarantine [restriction of movement, ROM], a pre-deployment quarantine from CONUS is not required unless the host nation or combatant command specifically requires it. Immunized and non-immunized personnel must consult Foreign Clearance Guidance for more current requirements applying to all travelers.
According to the message, naval component commands also may authorize relaxing some health prevention measures “to train and operate in a more realistic and unimpeded shipboard manner.”
The pre-deployment quarantine remains in place for those not immunized and they will still have a test-in and test-out before being cleared for deployment. The message explained the reasoning for the sequester/quarantine as reducing the risk of infection to create a COVID-19-free bubble. Testing will continue for non-immunized sailors once aboard. They also will be tested three days before leaving ship in the United States to ensure they are virus-free.
The message defines vaccinated as those having received one shot in a two-shot sequence; immunized or fully vaccinated means the sequence has been completed.
The Navy reports that none of the 230,000 fully immunized sailors and Marines have been hospitalized to date for COVID-19. As of early April, 35 percent of active-duty sailors had been fully vaccinated. Because the vaccines were approved under the FDA’s emergency use authorization, sailors cannot be required to take them.
The Navy began issuing these COVID-19 guidance messages in the wake of the March 2020 outbreak aboard carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). Twelve hundred sailors on the ship contracted the virus. The fallout from the outbreak led to the removal of the carrier’s commander, Capt. Brent Crozier, and the resignation of acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.
Sawyer, in the release accompanying the message, added, “the science is pretty clear vaccinations are key to best protecting our sailors” and their families.
Although the guidance has been revised, the message noted that in addition to vaccinations, clean workspaces, creating a bubble, face coverings, social distancing, and staying home when ill “are the greatest influencers to prevent and isolate COVID-19.”
Sawyer added in the message, “we must continue to pursue full vaccination and apply best health protection measures both at home and at work to sustain and improve upon this performance.”