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San Diego-based Navy ship confines crew amid soaring COVID-19 cases

USS Somerset calls SD home
The ninth amphibious transport dock Somerset, home-ported in San Diego, has ordered its crew to remain on board as local Navy COVID-19 cases soar.
(Peggy Peattie)

The crew of the San Diego-based amphibious transport dock Somerset have been ordered to remain on board the ship as the Navy announced Wednesday that six more San Diego-based sailors have tested positive for COVID-19.

The order to remain on board coincides with comments made Tuesday by Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, who said such orders are already being implemented on submarines 14 days out from getting underway.

For the record:
9:16 PM, Mar. 25, 2020 An earlier version of this story said there are 36 known cases of coronavirus among local service members. That number, as of Wednesday evening, is 33.

Navy officials from the Somerset, Naval Surfaces Forces Pacific, 3rd Fleet and the Pacific Fleet would not confirm the order late Wednesday; however, a post on the ship’s Facebook page made note of the latest “schedule change.”

“By now you may know about our schedule change,” wrote Capt. Dave Kurtz, the ship’s commanding officer, in the post. “I won’t go into details here due to operational security, but want to assure all that we’re taking every precaution we can to maintain the health of our Sailors and their families, while maintaining our ship’s readiness in support of the Nation.”

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The spouse of a sailor on the Somerset told The San Diego Union-Tribune that sailors weren’t given advance notice of the move and were told upon arriving to work Wednesday morning. The Union-Tribune is not publishing her name because she said she fears reprisals for her husband.

“They went to work today and were told they can’t go home anymore,” she said when reached by phone. “They told him his family concerns aren’t their problem and this is no different than being deployed.”

In his Facebook message to families, Kurtz said the ship is where the country needs its sailors right now.

“Our Sailors have volunteered to serve where and when the country needs them,” Kurtz wrote. “That place is on USS SOMERSET and that time is now.”

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The move came as the Navy announced the largest single-day jump in confirmed novel coronavirus cases Navywide. Seventeen Navy sailors and civilians were announced positive for COVID-19 late Wednesday.

Among them are two sailors stationed aboard San Diego-based ships; however, the Navy is no longer disclosing which ships have positive cases.

Four more San Diego sailors and three San Diego Navy civilians are also among the new cases reported Wednesday.

Wednesday’s announcement brings the total number of local military testing positive for COVID-19 to 33, including 18 sailors on Navy ships and 14 shore-based sailors. Four Marines have also tested positive.

Five sailors on board a Navy ship at sea in the Pacific also tested positive, the Navy announced, though it did not say which ship.

On Tuesday, Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary, announced three sailors on board the San Diego-based carrier Theodore Roosevelt were being flown off the ship after testing positive while the ship is deployed to the Western Pacific.

Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Updates:
6:32 PM, Mar. 26, 2020: This story was updated with information that two additional ships are also keeping sailors on board.

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