U.S. Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) depart the ship to move to off-ship berthing April 10, 2020

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Liaghat

The Navy has tested nearly the entire crew of the deployed aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt for coronavirus, and the results offer insights into how the virus spreads and the importance of extensive testing.

Calling the situation “disconcerting,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper revealed Thursday that more than half the crew never showed any symptoms — a finding that underscores the importance of social distancing to limit its spread.

Navy officials told Reuters that roughly 60% of the carrier’s infected sailors were asymptomatic.

Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, the Navy surgeon general, said last week that “with regard to COVID-19, we’re learning that stealth in the form of asymptomatic transmission is this adversary’s secret power.”

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The US Navy has tested nearly the entire crew of the deployed aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt for the coronavirus, and the results offer some insight into the how the disease can spread undetected, especially among young, healthier populations.

The Navy is the military branch hardest hit by the coronavirus, with over 1,000 cases among military personnel. And, the majority of those cases, 660, are aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Since the outbreak began in late March, the Navy has tested 94% of the ship, a force of roughly 4,800 personnel.

On NBC’s “Today Show” Thursday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper revealed that more than half of the infected sailors never had any symptoms.

“What we’ve found of the 600 or so that have been infected, what’s disconcerting is a majority of those, 350 plus, are asymptomatic,” he said, adding, “So it has revealed a new dynamic of this virus that it can be carried by normal, healthy people who have no idea whatsoever that they are carrying it.”

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59), left, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), transit in formation.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony J. Rivera

The US military has not been able to conduct the kind of sweeping testing seen on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in all areas, which means US military personnel could appear healthy but actually be infected.

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The Department of Defense can carry out about 9,000 tests a day at present, but it aims to significantly increase its testing capacity to 60,000 tests per day.

The Pentagon has recorded only 2,986 coronavirus cases among US service members so far, but there could be more.

Talking about the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Esper said earlier this week that “there are people who have tested positive …  who are just moving around.” He added that “the same could apply to all of us.”

Speaking on lessons learned from the situation aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, the Navy surgeon general, told reporters at the Pentagon last Friday that “with regard to COVID-19, we’re learning that stealth in the form of asymptomatic transmission is this adversary’s secret power.”

In early April, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and prominent member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, said “somewhere between 25% and 50%” of people infected with the virus may never show any symptoms.

Navy officials told Reuters that roughly 60% of the carrier’s infected sailors were asymptomatic.

While some sailors were asymptomatic, others were not. Among the infected sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, more than half a dozen have been hospitalized. Two have been placed in the ICU. One died Monday, and the other remains in intensive care.

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