Top Stories 2021: COVID-19 Pandemic

December 28, 2021 3:49 PM
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Omar Bowen, left, assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Bahrain, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Lt. j.g. Kory Hill, anti-terrorism officer aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD-22), in Manama, Bahrain on Feb. 26, 2021. US Navy Photo

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect the Navy’s functioning, even as vaccines were rolled out to the fleet. The past year brought ebbs and flows in terms of the number of cases with peaks brought by the Delta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2.

As of Dec. 22, the Navy has seen a total of 90,469 cases of COVID-19 and a total of 181 deaths, including active-duty, civilians and reservists. In 2021, the Navy lost 15 sailors to COVID-19, with the most recent death on Dec. 18.

Vaccine Mandate

Steady sticklers with Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton began a Shot Exercise to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to all unvaccinated active duty personnel assigned to commands in the nation’s third largest fleet concentration area of Puget Sound, Aug. 31, 2021. US Navy Photo

The COVID-19 vaccination mandate for the Department of Defense was the biggest military story of the pandemic. All branches of the military required personnel — active-duty and reservists — to be vaccinated, although service each had its own deadlines.

Civilians who were employed by the Department of Defense and contractors also saw vaccination requirements, although they were laxer and allowed for testing regimens rather than vaccination.

The Navy set Nov. 28 as the deadline for active-duty sailors to be fully vaccinated, which meant being two weeks post the last shot — the second of the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or only shot of the one-dose Johnson and Johnson.

Reservists had until Dec. 28 to be fully vaccinated.

As of Dec. 22, 5,361 active-duty sailors remained unvaccinated, although that does include sailors who were not yet fully vaccinated but were in the process of being vaccinated, USNI News previously reported. The number also includes sailors who have exemptions or were waiting to hear if they would be granted an exemption.

The Navy received 2,844 requests for religious exemptions, but the sea service has yet to grant one, consistent with its history. The Navy had not granted a religious exemption for any vaccine in the past seven years, USNI News previously reported.

There were 140 temporary medical exemptions granted, as well as seven permanent ones. So far, there have not been any permanent medical or religious exemptions granted for reservists, according to the Navy’s most recent COVID-19 update.

The Navy has begun the process of separating those who continue to refuse to get vaccinated, USNI News previously reported. Although the Navy is trying to keep as many sailors as possible, if a sailor does not get vaccinated, they will be processed for separation.

There are some sailors who will be able to leave the service instead of being vaccinated if they are close to their retirement or discharge date.

Those who did not meet the deadline but are getting vaccinated will have their cases adjudicated by the chief of naval personnel, who is the COVID consolidated disposition authority.

The Navy began vaccinating sailors in early 2021 with the sailors of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, who received vaccines prior to deployment, USNI News reported.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) spent 206 consecutive days at sea as a result of the pandemic in 2020.

Ship Outbreaks

USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) steams through the ocean, on Dec 16, 2021. US Navy Photo

Cases of COVID-19 broke out on multiple ships, as the Navy — and the world — struggled to contain the virus.

Three sailors tested positive for COVID-19 on USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), leading to testing for the other 900 sailors aboard. No other cases were detected, USNI News reported in February.

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) spent nearly a month in port in Bahrain after 20 crew members tested positive at the end of February. USS San Diego (LPD-22) also pulled into port in Bahrain at the end of February, and between the two ships, approximately 40 sailors and Marines had contracted the disease.

Littoral Combat Ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) ended the year in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after sailors aboard tested positive for the disease. It is not clear what variant of SARS-CoV-2 infected the sailors, who are all fully immunized.

Lost Sailors

A sailor plays ‘Taps.’ US Navy Photo

The Navy has lost 17 sailors since the COVID-19 pandemic began in December 2019, according to a USNI News tally. A majority of sailors who died from disease-related complications did so in 2021.

The following sailors died in 2021 from COVID-19:

  • Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Abdigafar Salad Warsame, 52, died in January.
  • Navy boot camp instructor Chief Quartermaster Herbert Rojas, 59, died on Feb. 2.
    Information Systems Technician (Submarines) Second Class Petty Officer Cody Andrew-Godfredson Myers, 26, died on Feb. 4.
  • Aviation Support Equipment Technician 1st Class Marcglenn Orcullo, 42, died on Feb. 12.
  • Chief Hull Technician Justin Huf, 39, died on Feb. 22.
  • Senior Chief Fire Controlman Michael Wilson, 45, died on April 29.
  • Capt. Corby Ropp, 48, an active-duty Navy doctor, died in July.
  • Master-at-Arms First Class Allen Hillman, 47, died on July 26.
  • Personnel Specialist First Class Debrielle Richardson, 29, died on Aug. 13
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Edmar Ismael, 27, an electrician with Support Platoon, Engineer Support Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, died on Aug. 14
  • Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class Robert McMahon, 41, died also on Aug. 14.
  • Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 1st Class Ryan Crosby, 39, died Sept. 19.
  • Master-at-Arms Senior Chief Michael Haberstumpf, 42, assigned to the Joint Special Operations Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, died Oct. 10.
  • Electronics Technician First Class William Mathews, 47, died on Nov. 24.
  • Lt. Ivy Quintana-Martinez, 35, died on Dec. 18.
Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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