U.S. Navy, Royal Navy Address COVID-19 Crisis

Sailors inventory medical supplies aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (USN)

Published Apr 1, 2020 2:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

This week, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy sought to rally support in the ranks as they face the challenge of COVID-19 - both within the service and outside, in helping the onshore response effort in the civilian world. 

On Wednesday, Royal Navy First Sea Lord Adm. Tony Radakin released a video message on the Naval Service’s response to COVID-19. The message - aimed at the Royal Navy’s sailors, marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel, civil servants and contractors - covers the need for the service to support onshore relief efforts, maintain warfighting readiness and carry out operational tasking at the same time. Adm. Radakin noted a newly-implemented set of policies to help sailors who are scheduled to leave the service to remain within the Royal Navy and to continue assisting the response. 

U.S. Navy leadership responds to COVID-19 questions

In a message to the fleet released Tuesday, U.S. Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke asked sailors, officers and commanders to maintain trust with each other and to act with flexibility to minimize the risk of COVID-19. He stressed that the Navy will continue its operations in support of national security objectives. 

"We will continue deployed operations, and we will continue to prepare for deployed operations," Adm. Burke wrote. "It is true that keeping our Force healthy and safe is our absolute top priority. It is also true that our Navy needs to sustain operational readiness to defend our nation."

The statement follows shortly after the publication of a letter from the commanding officer of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. B.E. Crozier, who appealed to headquarters to disembark 4,000 members of the ship's crew in order to fight a COVID-19 outbreak on board. Capt. Crozier also criticized the available quarantine facilities on Guam, contending that the on-base temporary group housing is not adequate to isolate suspected "close-contact" crewmembers. 

"There are times that you may need to go to an installation commander for places to house your sailors because you cannot effectively isolate your personnel. There are times when they may not be able to help. We want these decisions to be fact-based, and not emotionally-driven," Adm. Burke wrote. "If you’re not getting what you need, don’t suffer in silence, get the word up the chain [of command]. Above all, and I want you to hear this from me and the CNO, we have your back. When in doubt, lean forward and lead. We will be pushing the entire Navy team to remove obstacles for you – but we need you to lead."

Adm. Burke emphasized that commanders must sustain trust within their units and within the Navy as a whole, without othering elements of the service using language like "they" or "them."

He also shared the current best-available knowledge about COVID-19 and its prevention:

- It is transmitted by respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes.
- It can remain airborne for short periods of time (there is debate surrounding the duration)
- Respiratory droplets can settle on horizontal surfaces.
- Untreated virus levels can be detected up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
- A strong disinfectant (like bleach) is required to clean infected surfaces. Medical laboratory-grade ultraviolet lights are also successful.
- It can be transmitted by an infected person before tests will detect it.
- Many young, healthy people may contract it without knowing and without showing symptoms, and they may still spread it. 

The good news is that most sailors are young and fit and may experience only mild symptoms, he said. To date, few sailors have been hospitalized and none have required ventilators.