Eleven crew members from the US Coast Guard cutter Stratton tested positive for COVID-19 while on a counternarcotics patrol in the East Pacific, according to a Coast Guard press release. The Stratton was ordered to return to Coast Guard Island, its home port in Alameda, California.
“The safety of our people and the public remain my top priority. We continue to perform all statutory missions while taking the necessary precautions to protect our members and the public,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, US Coast Guard Pacific Area commander. “We are committed to maintaining our operational readiness and will continue to perform critical missions that protect our national interests, promote economic prosperity and ensure public safety.”
The Stratton deployed Oct. 28 on a counternarcotics patrol in the East Pacific from its home port. Before departure, the Stratton’s crew followed “restriction-of-movement” protocols, which included passing two subsequent COVID-19 tests and remaining quarantined before the patrol.
Several crew members reported “mild symptoms” on Nov. 11 and 12. All who were showing symptoms received rapid testing kits, and 11 out of the 133 total crew members tested positive for COVID-19. The decision was made to cut the patrol short and return to their home port in California. According to Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, the US Coast Guard Pacific Area public affairs officer, it is still unknown how the crew members came into contact with the virus during their deployment. Brickey explained that crew members from the Stratton did not have interaction with any other ships or crews, and they are hoping contact tracing will help them figure out how the virus came aboard.
“The crew’s health and safety is my highest priority,” Capt. Bob Little, Stratton’s commanding officer, said in the press release. “Stratton has a highly resilient crew, always dedicated to the mission. Our mission today is to get healthy so we can continue our service to the nation.”
Once they returned to Alameda, the crew of the Stratton immediately quarantined, and those affected are receiving medical care. According to the US Coast Guard, the crew will “meet all inport watchstanding requirements” while there. Brickey said that the goal is to get the crew healthy and ready to go back out on patrol as soon as safely possible and that the crew members are “eager to get well and back in the fight.”
The surge of COVID-19 cases aboard the cutter Stratton isn’t the first time the US military has confronted the virus while at sea. The US Navy’s USS Theodore Roosevelt, with a crew of nearly 4,800, was stricken by the virus, including then-Capt. Brett Crozier. In total, 1,271 crew members from the Roosevelt tested positive for COVID-19, with an additional 60 who were listed as suspected positive because of their symptoms despite a negative COVID-19 test, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. A thousand crew members tested positive within five weeks of the first confirmed case. One sailor died, 23 were hospitalized, and four received intensive care due to their severe condition.
At the end of the debacle, COVID-19 had rendered a US Navy warship incapacitated for a period of time, proving the dangers of the virus aboard naval vessels. In addition, Crozier was removed as captain of the Roosevelt after his four-page memo was leaked to the media, followed by then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly stepped down after video of him publicly insulting Crozier went viral.