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Acting SECNAV Modly: Gaps between port visits will last until COVID-19 threat is eliminated

Gaps between port visits for ships traveling within the 7th Fleet’s area of operations will last until the U.S. service members are no longer in jeopardy of contracting the coronavirus, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modley said Friday.

The comments follow U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John C. “Lung” Aquilino’s order for all 7th Fleet ships to wait at least 14 days before visiting another port within the 7th Fleet’s area of operations, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. This allows time to ensure crews don’t contract the illness, known as COVID-19.

“We’ve been actually looking at this for several weeks now. I know it’s sort of come out in the news lately that we’re taking these actions, but we’ve been looking at this for a very long time,” Modly said Friday in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt. “And we’re going to keep whatever actions and restrictions in place as long as we feel that there may be some risk to our sailors. So we’re going to continue to do this and monitor it closely.”

Although Aquilino’s order did not specify how long the directive would last, Modly signaled that the order could remain for a “while” and that the Navy would adapt to ensure supplies are appropriately distributed.

“I think we are prepared to deal with this for a while,” Modly said. “And as it evolves, you know, we’ll come up with different contingencies in terms of how we might get supplies out to the ships.”

The 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan, is the largest of the Navy’s forward deployed fleets and its area of operation covers 36 countries including China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea.

The 7th Fleet told Military Times on Monday it was starting to conduct checks for all crew members and others before infiltrating 7th Fleet units, in order to halt the spread of COVID-19.

“We have developed plans to screen all personnel including but not limited to crew, visitors, civilians, contractors, and new check-ins gaining access to C7F units and platforms,” 7th Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said in an email to Military Times.

On Sunday, the 7th Fleet’s flagship — amphibious command ship Blue Ridge — pulled into port in Laem Chabang, Thailand for a scheduled port visit.

Likewise, the amphibious assault ship America and dock landing ship Green Bay arrived in Chuck Samet, Thailand on Saturday for a scheduled port visit ahead of Cobra Gold, a multinational military exercise that kicked off on Tuesday in Thailand.

More than 5,500 U.S. troops are participating in this year’s Cobra Gold exercise, and military officials said there are additional medical resources this year to prevent troops from getting sick.

“As part of the mitigation strategy we have brought additional medical capabilities, supplies, to include individual personal protective equipment, and additional preventive medicine specialists,” Marine Corps Capt. George McArthur, a spokesman for the Cobra Gold 2020 Combined-Joint Information Bureau, said in an email to Military Times.

“Dealing with the threat of disease or illness is a common planning factor for all military operations and the U.S. military is fully prepared to successfully operate in any environment,” McArthur said.

These efforts include screening U.S. force personnel before and after arrival in Thailand, according to Army Lt. Col. Luke Mease, the senior medical authority deployed to Cobra Gold. Mease told Military Times that U.S. joint forces have also deployed more than 35 additional medical personnel to facilitate detecting the virus during the exercise, which concludes on March 6.

So far, one soldier stationed in at Camp Carroll in South Korea has tested positive for the coronavirus. Outside of China, South Korea where more than 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed has had the most confirmed cases of the illness.

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