By Paul Roberts / The Seattle Times
As the Everett-based American destroyer USS Kidd reported an increase in the number of cases of of COVID-19, relatives and friends of the 350 crew members prayed for their health while Navy officials vowed to keep the outbreak, the second to strike a Navy vessel at sea, from spreading.
On Saturday, the Navy reported that 33 sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, up from the 18 cases announced just 24 hours earlier, and that the ship would return to port, according the Navy’s COVID-19 news site.
Navy officials had reported Friday that a Kidd sailor with symptoms had been evacuated a day earlier on Thursday to a San Antonio medical facility, where he tested positive for the virus. The Navy then sent a specialized medical team to the Kidd to conduct contact tracing and additional testing. A second sailor was medically evacuated off the ship later.
The Kidd is the second Navy vessel at sea to report an outbreak, after the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which has reported more than 800 cases of infection among its nearly 5,000 crew members.
Navy officials did not respond to requests for updates about the Kidd on Sunday. But in a Saturday statement on the ship’s Facebook page, Cmdr. Matt Noland, the ship’s executive officer, said the Kidd was “navigating safely to port under our own power and under the watchful eyes of our own deck officers, CIC teams, and Engineers. Our priority is to get this team to port safely, get ourselves a clean bill of health, and get right back into the mix at sea.”
The destroyer was on a mission related to U.S. counterdrug activities off the Pacific coast of South America. The Kidd is based at the Naval Station in Everett, but Navy officials did not disclose which port the ship was headed toward.
The ship’s Facebook page also featured hundreds of comments of support and concern by the family and friends of the crew. “I am a very proud navy mother and my daughter is a proud USS KIDD sailor who has been stricken with the virus!!!” wrote a woman identified only as Lisa Mae. “May you all keep her in your prayers as we have all Kidd sailors in ours!!!!”
Navy officials said Friday that the first patient was “already improving” and that the Kidd would rendezvous with a Navy vessel with a fleet surgical team, intensive-care capacity and ventilators in case additional support is required at sea.
The outbreak adds to the challenges for the Navy, which has the largest number of positive cases of all service branches, with some 1,500 as of Friday, according to media reports. On Thursday, The Hill reported that at least 26 other vessels have reported coronavirus infections, but all those ships are docked in port.
The outbreak aboard the Kidd comes just weeks after questions were raised over the Navy’s handling of the outbreak aboard the Roosevelt, whose captain was relieved of command after complaining of a lack of support from the Navy as the outbreak spread.
Asked whether the Pentagon fears that the Kidd may become another Roosevelt crisis, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said the Navy acted quickly once learning of the first symptomatic sailor aboard the Kidd, according to The Associated Press.
“The Navy has lessons learned from prior experience with a COVID crisis, and they have been quickly applying those to this case,” Hoffman said. “Fingers crossed, the Navy is doing everything they can right now, and we’re going to hope for the best outcome, but they are going to take all of the prudent steps that they possibly can.”
On March 17, Noland, the Kidd’s executive officer, wrote in a Facebook post that the ship had “no suspected cases onboard,” and was “taking all the precautions to keep crew health and safety at the forefront, in case we do have any shipmates that begin manifesting symptoms of the virus.”
As elsewhere, those precautions would become more intensive. Photos posted on the Facebook page as recently as April 3 appeared to show sailors not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
By April 6, however, posted photographs from the ship showed the crew wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
The Navy did not give a timetable for the Kidd’s return to port or disclose which port it would be. But Navy officials said the crew would continue to clean and disinfect the ship, “in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Navy-specific guidelines. Onboard test results will inform operational decisions.”
The 15-year-old vessel has taken part in several noteworthy actions. In 2012, the Kidd rescued the crew of an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel who had been held hostage by Somali pirates for more than 40 days. In March 2014, it was among the first vessels to search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 after it went missing over the South China Sea.
The Kidd also had a run-in with Hurricane Katrina, which struck while the vessel was being completed in a Mississippi shipyard and caused hull damage.
On Saturday, Noland published a Facebook post that characterized the outbreak in terms of battle.
“I am an optimist, but make no mistake. KIDD is in a fight right now, against COVID and against anyone out there who might want to capitalize on what they perceive as a weakness,” Noland stated. “I am seeing hundreds of young American Sailors come together to fight for each other, and to do what they swore to do when they took an oath to protect our republic.”
That fighting spirit was in evidence among the crew’s family and friends. “This ship survived Hurricane Katrina,” Chad Lozier wrote on the Facebook page. “It’s going to survive this too.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Kidd was headed to its home port at Naval Station Everett.