Navy Mystery: How Are People Getting Infected on Hospital Ship?

126 medical staff members removed from USNS Mercy after 7 test positive for COVID-19
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 15, 2020 1:23 AM CDT
No One Should Be Getting the Virus on Navy Hospital Ship, but They Are
In this March 27, 2020 file photo, the USNS Mercy hospital ship enters the Port of Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

The Navy has removed 126 medical staff members from its hospital ship docked off Los Angeles after seven of them tested positive for COVID-19, an official said Tuesday. The personnel from the USNS Mercy were taken to a nearby base and remain under quarantine, the AP reports. None so far has needed hospitalization, said Lt. Rochelle Rieger of the 3rd Fleet. It’s unclear where or how the sailors became infected, Rieger said. The ship left San Diego on March 23 when all were screened before they boarded, Rieger said. It arrived to Los Angeles four days later to provide relief to the city amid the pandemic by accepting patients from hospitals who were not infected with the virus. None of the more than 1,000 personnel aboard were allowed to leave the ship once it departed San Diego.

“The only people going on and off the ship are the actual patients we’ve been treating so it’s very hard to trace where this came from,” Rieger said. So far the ship, with 1,000 beds, has taken in only 20 patients from hospitals and none has tested positive for the coronavirus or showed any symptoms of the illness, Rieger said. The seven staffers who tested positive as well as all personnel with whom they came in close contact were removed, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. Two medical personnel who tested positive came in close contact with a small number of the patients but they were wearing full protective gear, including gloves, N95 masks, and eye goggles. One theory for how the virus got onboard: Sailors who rotated through the screening area prior to boarding the ship in San Diego may have brought it, some of the crew fears. (The virus is shaping up to be a big problem for the military.)

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