WASHINGTON — A crew member from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt who had the novel coronavirus died on Monday, in a poignant punctuation to the plea from the ship’s captain two weeks ago for help from the Navy because “sailors don’t need to die.”
The death of the sailor came as Navy officials continued to struggle to combat the infection that has crippled the nuclear-powered ship, now docked in Guam. The name of the sailor is being withheld until 24 hours after family members are notified, Navy officials said.
“The entire department is deeply saddened by the loss of our first active-duty member to Covid-19,” Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said in a statement. Adm. Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, called the death “a great loss for the ship and for our Navy.”
The death is already wrapped up in what has become a story of disjointed leadership in the Navy, where top officials pitted themselves against the ship’s captain and medical crew in the battle to contain the disease. Pleading for more help from the Navy to swiftly evacuate the ship as the virus spread, Capt. Brett E. Crozier implored officials to put concerns for the health of the sailors ahead of concerns for the ship’s ability to maintain military readiness should a war crop up.
“We are not at war,” Captain Crozier said in a March 30 letter to officials. “Sailors don’t need to die.” Three days later, Captain Crozier was fired by Thomas B. Modly, the acting Navy secretary. Mr. Modly resigned five days later.
As of Monday, 585 Roosevelt crew members had the coronavirus, including Captain Crozier.
The same day that Captain Crozier was writing his letter, the sailor tested positive for Covid-19, Navy officials said. He was evacuated from the ship and placed in isolation on the American naval base on Guam, along with four other sailors.
On April 5, the sailor was admitted to the emergency department at the Guam naval hospital with respiratory issues and was discharged shortly afterward, military officials said. He returned to the isolation house, where health care providers did twice-daily checks, officials said.
At 8:30 a.m. on April 9, the sailor was found unresponsive during one of the checks and taken to the hospital’s intensive care unit.
On Monday, military officials said that there were at least four other sailors from the Roosevelt in the hospital and that they were in stable condition.
The fate of Captain Crozier’s career now lies in the hands of Admiral Gilday, the Navy’s top uniformed official. He told reporters last week that the investigation of the Roosevelt matter, which he ordered, was complete and that he had started to review the findings.
Results could be made public this week, Navy officials said on Monday.
The inquiry, conducted by Adm. Robert P. Burke, a former submarine captain who is the vice chief of naval operations, relied on interviews with more than a dozen Navy personnel aboard the Roosevelt and in Captain Crozier’s chain of command, according to people familiar with the scope of the investigation.
Admiral Gilday said he had not ruled out any courses of action, including the potential of reinstating Captain Crozier, if that was where the investigation led.
“I am taking no options off the table,” Admiral Gilday said, adding that he had not spoken to the captain, who is in quarantine on Guam after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The pivotal issue, Admiral Gilday said, is why Captain Crozier felt compelled to send his four-page letter outside normal communications channels, and whether it illustrated a breakdown in communications with his chain of command.
Before the results are made public, Admiral Gilday will consult with Mr. Esper; the new acting Navy secretary, Jim McPherson; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon officials said on Monday.
Former top Navy officials said the service would probably be criticized regardless of what actions it took.
“No matter the direction recommended, the critics of the action will align,” said Sean O’Keefe, who was the Navy secretary under President George Bush. “The investigation will force actions regardless of whether they are popular or not.”
Meanwhile, health care providers at the naval hospital on Guam have been directed by top levels of the Navy to begin a research project on the quarantined Roosevelt sailors that examines the serology of the coronavirus, to learn more about how the immune system responds to the infection, according to military officials.
The project has drawn anger from some of the providers because of a lack of any defined research protocol, compounded by safety concerns over the amount of protective equipment required and their already strained reserves. Some have refused to participate on ethical grounds.
In another sign of how the coronavirus has upended military deployments, the Navy said on Monday that the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, wrapping up a five-month tour to the Middle East, would remain at sea off the East Coast for at least three more weeks in case the warship and its Covid-free crew were needed elsewhere before returning to its home port in Norfolk, Va.
John Ismay contributed reporting.