"Extraordinary measures" that include requiring all sailors deployed in a dual-aircraft carrier mission to the South China Sea to wear face masks have so far kept them all free of coronavirus infections, according to two U.S. Navy admirals in charge of the exercise.
"We've taken extraordinary measures to protect our sailors from COVID, but that said it remains a real threat and requires constant vigilance," Rear Adm. George Wikoff, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, told CNN in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"The entire team underway, everyone on board, is required to wear a mask," Wikoff added.
The response comes after the USS Theodore Roosevelt was crippled by an outbreak that infected more than 1,000 of the 4,900 crew.
The Navy has also spaced out mealtimes, instituted social distancing, and brought aboard specialists including microbiologists and extra health personnel, said Wikoff and Adm. James Kirk, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 11, led by the USS Nimitz.
Kirk said that smaller outbreaks were reported earlier this year with the crews of both the Nimitz and the Reagan, but the Navy has worked with the situation, and the strike group "has remained COVID-free since early April."
"We've been very effective in applying the mitigation measures that have been put in place to protect the health and readiness of the crew and the strike group," he added.
The admirals, meanwhile, said the operation was conducted to emphasize the Navy's commitment to keeping the Indo-Pacific region free and open, but Beijing complained that the mission was conducted to undermine peace and stability, and called the carriers "nothing more than paper tigers on China's doorsteps."
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