Commands across the Navy have been ordered to take every measure possible to avoid large formations or gatherings as a means to stem the growing tide of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and the military community, officials confirmed.
Unit leadership across the fleet is expected to follow social distancing guidelines, and have been instructed to “remain out of congregate settings, avoid mass gatherings and maintain six feet or two-meter distance from others when possible,” Lt. James Adams, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson, told Navy Times.
The initiative comes in the wake of news Wednesday that a second U.S. sailor assigned to the San Diego-based amphibious assault ship Boxer tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19. The first Boxer sailor was diagnosed just days earlier. Both are currently in self-quarantine in their off-base residences.
The Navy’s response also follows a ProPublica report this week that revealed apparent negligence on the part of Boxer leadership, who, instead of using available outdoor spaces, reportedly crowded approximately 80 senior enlisted sailors and officers into tight quarters — 2 to 4 feet apart — for a 30-minute update on the continually escalating crisis.
“Definitely not enough room to maintain appropriate distance,” one frustrated sailor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ProPublica. “People are wondering why we gathered in a room contradictory to CDC guidance.”
The Boxer, like other ships, has since implemented sleeping arrangements that place at least 6 feet between sailors, adhering to guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But today’s guidance takes those measures one step further, encouraging unit leadership to use all resources available to disseminate information without coming into physical contact.
“Alternative means of communication could mean an announcement over the ship’s public announcement system, emails or memos, and social media town halls for commanders to connect with their sailors while maintaining appropriate social distancing,” Adams told Navy Times.
In preparation for a growing number of afflicted cases, the Navy is readying its two 1,000-bed hospital ships, the Mercy and Comfort, to assist civilian medical practitioners.
The service has also reduced manning where available, relaxed grooming standards, implemented shift work, postponed recruit graduation ceremonies until further notice, and increased the availability for sailors to telework, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in a message to the fleet Thursday.
“Commanders are empowered to take the necessary precautions, so they can effectively carry out their missions and meet the critical needs of our sailors,” Gilday said.
“While 30 percent of our fleet is underway today — including four carrier strike groups and four amphibious ready groups — we must, to the greatest extent possible, practice social distancing, as well as good hygiene and cleanliness aboard our ships, in our offices, and in our homes.
“America continues to depend on us to provide security and stability to this nation, and we will do just that.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.