Report | Feb. 4, 2021

Evaluation of the Navy’s Plans and Response to the Coronavirus Disease-2019 Onboard Navy Warships and Submarines (DODIG-2021-049)

Evaluation

Publicly Released: February 8, 2021

 

Objective

We determined whether the Navy had, and implemented, policies, plans, and procedures to prevent and mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, such as coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), on its warships and submarines. The focus of this evaluation was at the Navy component command level, primarily focusing on U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) and U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT). 

 

Background

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that can cause a wide spectrum of symptoms. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and on March 13, 2020, the President declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) enacted on March 27, 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) received $10.5 billion to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, domestically and internationally.

As of May 11, 2020, USFF and PACFLT [REDACTED] with at least 1 positive case of COVID-19. All but two of the ships were in their home port and were not at sea. As of August 1, 2020, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and the destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) were the  only Navy warships that had a COVID-19 outbreak while underway at sea, and both had the highest number of cases relative to the crew size. Both warships were on regularly scheduled overseas deployments in the Pacific Ocean. The USS Theodore Roosevelt had just completed a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam when its leadership reported the ship’s first COVID-19 case on March 24, 2020. The USS Kidd was supporting counternarcotic operations in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific Ocean when its leadership reported the ship’s first COVID-19 case on April 22, 2020. On April 30, 2020, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations began a Command Investigation Concerning Chain of Command Actions with Regard to COVID-19 Onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

 

Finding

We found that DoD and the Navy had policies, plans, and procedures to mitigate the spread of pandemic influenza and infectious disease. Additionally, the Navy issued additional policies, plans, and procedures, and collected and disseminated lessons learned to specifically prevent and mitigate, or combat, COVID-19. These lessons learned can assist in updating existing policies.

However, the Navy had not fully implemented measures intended to reduce the risk of the spread of infectious diseases. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that four out of five Navy Component Commands did not conduct a biennial Pandemic Influenza & Infectious Disease exercise in accordance with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) requirements.

As a result of lapses in following mitigation measures, infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, can spread quickly if introduced onboard warships and submarines, which negatively impacts the readiness of naval forces.

As of August 1, 2020, there were only two Navy ships that had a COVID-19 outbreak while at sea on an operational deployment. We examined the Navy’s response to these two outbreaks. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations’ Command Investigation Concerning Chain of Command Actions with Regard to COVID-19 Onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) determined that the ineffective implementation of social distancing and the premature release of sailors from quarantine were primary causes of increased infection onboard the ship.

According to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, this occurred because the USS Theodore Roosevelt leadership did not effectively implement mitigation measures for the majority of their crew. The command investigation further stated that the USS Theodore Roosevelt leadership team allowed social gathering areas to remain open, and continued to perform urinalysis testing for illegal substances that the leadership team should have considered non‑essential during the COVID-19 outbreak. Furthermore, the USS Theodore Roosevelt leadership decided to prematurely release sailors from quarantine because conditions in quarantine were crowded, and they believed that the quarantine caused more sailors to become infected. According to the Navy’s Command Investigation Concerning Chain of Command Actions with Regard to COVID-19 Onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), these decisions likely resulted in infection to a larger portion of the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. As of August 1, 2020, the destroyer USS Kidd was the only other Navy warship that had a COVID-19 outbreak at sea during an overseas deployment. A destroyer’s response to a pandemic event may lead to the development of different lessons learned and best practices for planning, logistics, and medical response than other types of warships and submarines.

 

Recommendations

We recommend that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy and the Surgeon General of the Navy review and update OPNAV Instruction 3500.41A, “Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Policy,” and Navy Technical Reference Publication 4-02.10, “Shipboard Quarantine and Isolation,” September 2014, to include guidance and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. For example implementation of restriction of movement, pre-deployment sequesters, personal protective equipment supply requirements, and shipboard quarantine procedures.

We also recommend that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy and the Surgeon General of the Navy include the observations and analysis identified in the after action review on the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Kidd for use when updating Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease policies.

We further recommend that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy develop a plan of action and milestones for Navy Component Commands to conduct biennial Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease exercises in accordance with OPNAV Instruction 3500.41A.

 

 

This report is the product of Proj. No. D2020-DEVOSI-0127.000