Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
More than a dozen sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier have tested positive for the coronavirus again after recovering from the illness.
The Navy confirmed Thursday that five sailors on the ship had retested positive (and that 18 more sailors had been taken off the ship out of an “abundance of caution”), according to CNN. This weekend, defense officials told Politico that 13 sailors in total had tested positive again after recovering and returning to the ship.
Those sailors were removed from the ship and returned to isolation at the naval base in Guam. At least some of the 13 had reported symptoms to the medical crew, a defense official told CNN.
In addition, one sailor on the ship has developed a case of tuberculosis, according to Politico.
“This week, a small number of TR Sailors who previously tested COVID positive and met rigorous recovery criteria have retested positive," Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Myers Vasquez told Politico. "These protocols resulted in a small number of close contacts who were also removed from the ship, quarantined and tested.”
Reports out of both China and South Korea have indicated that it’s possible to test positive for coronavirus again after recovering — some of those who did were asymptomatic — but clusters of those incidents have so far been rare.
Scientists also aren’t sure whether the tests indicating patients have contracted the disease a second time are false positives or only detecting small, lingering particles of the virus. The World Health Organization said earlier this month that the wave of second positive tests in South Korea were likely not reinfections but stemmed from patients “expelling leftover materials from their lungs, as part of the recovery phase.”
In fact, it’s unclear whether people can contract the virus a second time or if their immune systems just flare up again.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt was at the center of a controversy in April when the ship’s former captain, Brett Crozier, was forced out after a memo he wrote to his Navy superiors criticizing their handling of the pandemic was leaked to and published by the San Francisco Chronicle. The ensuing firestorm resulted in the resignation of the man who canned Crozier, acting Navy Sec. Thomas Modly.
Since then, Crozier’s warnings have become grimly prescient. The Navy stopped releasing daily coronavirus totals to the public at the end of April; at that point, there were 1,102 active cases on the Theodore Roosevelt, which has a normal operating crew of nearly 4,900 members. And the missile destroyer the USS. Kidd had 78 cases, although officials said in early May that there were 95 cases on the Kidd.
The Kidd has a normal crew of 330, meaning that its infection rate when the Navy stopped releasing information was even higher than the Theodore Roosevelt’s. Defense secretary Mark Esper suggested earlier this month that the outbreak started while the ship was on a counter-narcotics mission in South America.
Despite the new setbacks, the Navy said Monday that the carrier is currently conducting a “fast cruise” simulation to test the ship’s systems as if it were at sea. As of Thursday, more than 2,900 sailors had moved back aboard the ship, according to Politico, which accounts for roughly 60% of the ship’s crew.
“Fast cruise is a major milestone for the ship and for the crew,” Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the new commanding officer of the ship, said in a statement. “Our Sailors have tested all of the ship’s systems individually, but this is our opportunity to integrate all of that together and show that Theodore Roosevelt is ready and able to go back to sea.”
Cover: In this March 18, 2020, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, an F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in the western North Pacific Ocean. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas V. Huynh/U.S. Navy via AP))