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Guam worries as sailors from coronavirus-hit Roosevelt take over hotels

Sailors assigned to the Theodore Roosevelt move ready-to-eat meals for sailors being taken off the ship to hotels in Guam on April 10.
(Mass Communication Specialist Julio Rivera / U.S. Navy)

People in Guam are used to a constant U.S. military presence on the strategic Pacific island, but some are nervous as hundreds of sailors from a coronavirus-stricken Navy aircraft carrier flood into hotels for quarantine. Officials insist that they have enforced strict safety measures.

An outbreak aboard the Theodore Roosevelt began in late March and has thrust the Navy into a leadership crisis after the ship’s commander distributed a letter urging faster action to protect his sailors. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly fired Capt. Brett E. Crozier and then assailed him during a speech on the ship in Guam, saying Crozier was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in charge of an aircraft carrier.

Modly resigned last week after facing blowback and after publicly apologizing for his comments about Crozier.

The carrier has been docked in the U.S. territory for more than a week as the 4,865-person crew is tested for the virus and moved ashore. More than 580 sailors have been confirmed infected. A member of the crew died Monday of complications related to COVID-19.

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The Navy says a sailor who was hospitalized in intensive care on Guam last week has died of coronavirus-related complications.

More than 1,700 sailors who have tested negative are isolating in hotels, while the sick remain on base, Navy officials said.

“Our people are getting slapped in the face,” said Hope Cristobal, who worries officials are making promises about safety they won’t keep.

She lives less than a quarter-mile from hotels in Tumon, Guam’s version of Hawaii’s popular Waikiki neighborhood, saying, “We don’t know exactly where they’re being housed.”

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Mary Rhodes, president of the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Assn., declined to identify the hotels but said as many as 10 have been set aside to house up to 4,000 sailors. Seven of them had already stopped taking reservations and seen a dramatic drop in visitors as airlines canceled flights, she said.

Each sailor is staying in a room stocked with two weeks’ worth of linens, towels and water, Rhodes said. There is no contact with hotel workers, and only military police and medical teams can visit.

The Navy has sent masks, gloves and other safety equipment to the hotels, where employees make food that military personnel deliver, Rhodes said.

Some residents are urging Guam’s governor to reconsider allowing the sailors to stay in hotels.

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In a statement, I Hagan Famalaoan Guahan, a group that supports women who are Chamorro, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, which include Guam, said of the sailors: “Being negative today doesn’t mean that they won’t be in a week or so. The decision to house them in the middle of our community is playing a game of chance with the health of our people.”

Guam’s hotels frequently host military members, and the Department of Defense controls about a third of the island, which is 3,800 miles west of Honolulu and a crucial, strategic hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific.

Not including the sailors, Guam had 133 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths as of Saturday.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigns after saying ousted Capt. Brett E. Crozier was either ‘too naive or too stupid’ to run an aircraft carrier.

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Officials are focused on stopping the spread of the virus, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said as she announced that sailors could stay in hotels.

“I know there will be a small chorus of cynics who will oppose this decision, but now is not the time for ‘us versus them,’” she told reporters April 1. “We can protect Guam while being humane to them.”

The Rev. Fran Hezel said people probably aren’t that upset about the move.

“Frankly, I don’t think it’s much of an issue, because I think that people have bigger fish to fry,” said Hezel, the parish priest at Santa Barbara Catholic Church in Dededo, Guam’s most populated village.

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The sailors’ quarantine is actually benefiting some smaller hotels, Rhodes said. The Navy has taken over hotels with more than 300 rooms, and other guests have been moved to smaller properties that are struggling amid cancellations.

Rhodes said “necessary measures” are in place to safeguard the public.

Those assurances aren’t enough for Cristobal and others. She said the sailors are adding to an already stressful situation: “I have shortness of breath, and I’m wondering if it’s COVID or is it my anxiety.”


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