The U.S. Navy combat ship that was sidelined by a coronavirus outbreak among its crew last month has returned to sea, even as some sailors on board remained positive for the virus, officials said on Monday.
The USS Milwaukee, a littoral combat ship with a crew of 105 plus a detachment of Coast Guard personnel and an aviation unit, had been at port in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since Dec. 20, after stopping at the U.S. military base there to refuel. The Associated Press reported that about 25 percent of the ship’s sailors had tested positive.
Officials said Monday that “all affected sailors exhibited mild or no symptoms.”
Cmdr. Kate Meadows, a spokeswoman for U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, did not specify how many crew members were still positive, but said in an email to The Washington Post that they were “isolated aboard” the ship. The entire crew was not tested before departure, she added.
“Leadership decisions are informed by fleet medical and public health experts,” Meadows said.
The ship was less than a week into its months-long counternarcotics mission in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific when virus infections forced the crew to pause.
“It is great to be heading back out to sea.” Cmdr. Brian Forster, USS Milwaukee’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “The crew worked together as a team to ensure we are ready to conduct the mission.”
Last week, Navy commanders said they would offer coronavirus vaccine booster shots to the crew. Even though the Navy has said it strongly recommends boosters and expects them to be required soon, they are not yet mandatory for the Milwaukee crew.
The ship’s two-week layover highlighted the heated political debate over President Joe Biden’s approach to vaccination for military personnel and other federal workers. The Defense Department has ordered U.S. troops to receive the first round of inoculations, but has not yet announced a booster requirement. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s top health officials have urged Americans to get the additional jab as the country confronts a wave of infections fueled by the omicron variant.