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Navy battles growing coronavirus outbreak on hospital ship Mercy as 7 test positive

USNS Mercy Sailor Treats Patient
A patient is prepared for a CT scan aboard the hospital ship Mercy last week.
(Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Breeden / U.S. Navy)

Naval health officials are fighting an outbreak of the novel coronavirus among the crew of the hospital ship Mercy, where four more sailors tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the total cases among the crew to seven, a Navy official said Monday.

The affected sailors, as well as those with whom they had close contact, have left the ship and are either isolated or quarantined off the ship, according to Cmdr. John Fage, a 3rd Fleet spokesman.

“The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crewmembers and patients on board,” Fage said in an email.

The outbreak has not affected Mercy’s ability to receive patients, he said.

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The Mercy is pier-side at the Port of Los Angeles. Its first case of COVID-19 among its crew was reported Wednesday. On Friday, the Navy confirmed two more cases on board.

The Mercy left San Diego on March 23 and arrived in Los Angeles four days later. Its mission is to relieve Los Angeles hospitals by treating patients who do not have COVID-19. All incoming patients are tested before coming aboard.

The sailors came aboard after serving at various Navy medical installations, including Naval Medical Center San Diego. The hospital is one of two military medical facilities in San Diego County seeing service members who seek treatment and testing for COVID-19. The other is Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.

Because some medical staff rotated through the COVID-19 screening area at Naval Medical Center San Diego before deploying on the Mercy, one sailor said, there is concern on board that the crew brought the virus with them when they left San Diego.

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The Mercy has a medical crew of more than 1,000 personnel and a smaller civilian crew that maintains the vessel’s shipboard systems.

The Navy has struggled to contain an outbreak of the virus on board another San Diego-based ship, the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. That ship has been sidelined in Guam since late March when several sailors tested positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, 585 sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive.

One died Monday of complications from the virus, the Navy said. He has not been identified.

Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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