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No sailors on a Navy ship have needed hospitalization after outbreak

By Carol Rosenberg


None of the crew on the Navy combat ship USS Milwaukee who have been infected with the coronavirus have needed hospitalization, the Guantánamo Bay base hospital said Sunday, two days after the Navy disclosed an outbreak among fully vaccinated sailors aboard the ship.


The Milwaukee departed its home port in Jacksonville, Florida, on Dec. 14 with a crew of 105 sailors, including a Navy helicopter combat crew and a Coast Guard law enforcement unit as part of the U.S. Southern Command’s efforts to fight drug trafficking in the Caribbean. It reached Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Dec. 20 for a refueling and resupply stop and extended its stay there because of the outbreak.


“Our medical and public health teams are in close contact with medical on board ship,” hospital spokesperson Dawn Grimes said Sunday. At the request of the ship, she added, the hospital was providing medical staff on board with COVID-19 vaccine booster doses “to administer to those” who want an extra shot.


None of the Milwaukee’s crew members were permitted to leave the ship and adjoining pier after docking at the base, Cmdr. Kate Meadows said Saturday, sparing the 6,000 residents at Guantánamo Bay the risk of being exposed. The ship held its own open-air, socially distanced Christmas service on the pier, rather than attending services at the base chapel, and chefs on board prepared a holiday meal instead of joining Guantánamo personnel for their meals.


Active-duty troops in the Army and Navy were fired this month over their refusal to get vaccinated after President Joe Biden in August mandated vaccination for the armed services. But there were only a small group of holdouts last week, with the Navy reporting that more than 98% of its members had been vaccinated.


Only 85% of the residents of the base were fully vaccinated as of Sunday, Grimes said.


The outbreak aboard the Milwaukee is the first significant COVID-related health crisis aboard a U.S. ship sailing for the Southern Command since April 2020, when the Navy sent the USS Kidd from similar drug-interdiction operations back to San Diego with dozens of infected sailors on board. That episode occurred before the development of a vaccine.


In March 2020, one of the military’s first encounters with the virus occurred aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. The ship docked in Guam, in the South Pacific, and ended up stranded there for months after dozens of sailors were infected and one died. The ship’s commander at the time sent a letter to Navy officials pleading for help tackling the outbreak and criticizing the Navy’s failure to provide the proper resources. He was later removed from command of the ship.

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