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The US Navy is trying to get sailors off the aircraft carrier hit by a coronavirus outbreak, but it is having trouble finding enough beds

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  • Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told CNN Tuesday that the service was trying to get sailors off the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a deployed aircraft carrier that was forced into port in Guam by a coronavirus outbreak on board.
  • The first few cases were reported last week, and since then, the number of cases on the carrier has spiked.
  • “We’ve been working the past several days to get those sailors off the ship and to get them into accommodations in Guam,” Modly said Tuesday, adding that the challenge is finding beds for the many sailors on the ship.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The acting Navy secretary said Tuesday that the service is responding to a coronavirus outbreak aboard a deployed aircraft carrier and working to get sailors ashore and clean the ship, but it is not an easy process.

The first few cases aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt were reported last week. Since then, the number of cases has spiked, with some outlets reporting that more than 100 sailors may have the coronavirus.

Capt. Brett Crozier, the aircraft carrier’s commanding officer, wrote a letter to Navy leaders Monday warning of a worsening situation aboard the ship and calling on the Navy to take decisive action to get sailors off it as soon as possible, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported.

“Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors,” he wrote, urging the Navy to take as much as 90 percent of the crew off the ship.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told CNN on Tuesday the service is not in disagreement with the commanding officer and is working to get sailors ashore.

“We’ve been working the past several days to get those sailors off the ship and to get them into accommodations in Guam,” he said, explaining that “the problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now.”

“We’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space or create some tent-type facilities there,” he added.

There are other challenges as well.

He said that unlike a cruise ship, a Navy aircraft carrier cannot simply be emptied out entirely. There have to be people on board to manage essential systems. A Nimitz-class carrier has armaments and aircraft, nuclear reactors, and other complex systems.

“The key is to make sure that we can get a set of crew members that can man all those critical functions on the ship, make sure they’re clean, get them back on, clean the ship, and get the other crew members off,” Modly said. “That’s the process we’re going through. It’s very methodical. We are absolutely accelerating it as we go.”

He told MSNBC Tuesday that around 1,000 sailors have already left the ship.

US Pacific Fleet Adm.  J.C. Aquilino told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the Navy will not remove all sailors from the ship, explaining that “there will be sailors on the ship, in quarantine, in isolation, in testing throughout this process.”

The admiral did not clarify what he considered to be the smallest acceptable crew size.

The Navy is also working to test all of the about 5,000 sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Modly said the initial testing capacity was 200 tests per day, which means the Navy would need roughly 25 days to complete the testing process.

The Navy is trying to speed that process up with additional testing support, the acting secretary said.

Modly characterized the situation as a balancing act. “We all have one mission, and that’s to defend the nation. This is a unique circumstance and we’re working through it,” he told CNN.

Update: This post has been updated with US Pacific Fleet Adm.  J.C. Aquilino’s comments.

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