Capt. Brett Crozier, the U.S. navy commander fired for publicly demanding help with a coronavirus outbreak among his crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to two close friends.
Crozier started showing symptoms of the disease last week, around the time that his fiery memo to superiors appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, two of his Naval Academy classmates told the New York Times. The U.S. Navy has not confirmed the diagnosis.
Crozier was fired last Thursday for showing “extremely poor judgment” in allowing the memo to become public, according to Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.
In the memo, Crozier urged his bosses to take the aircraft carrier out of service so that the coronavirus wouldn’t run rampant through his crew of 5,000 sailors. The ship has remained operational while docked in Guam, although more than 150 sailors have been removed from the ship and quarantined after testing positive for the virus.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote in his memo last week. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset, our sailors.”
The U.S. navy removed Crozier from his command on Thursday and launched an investigation to determine his future.
However, Crozier’s sailors were clearly behind him when he left the ship on Thursday evening. Thousands of them lined the decks of the USS Roosevelt to give him a rousing goodbye. They called him a hero and chanted: “Captain Crozier! Captain Crozier!”
Crozier walked off the vessel, turned, saluted, waved and got into a waiting car.
The incident has sparked a partisan battle and a broader debate about the U.S. navy’s handling of the pandemic.
“Our captain did what he could to protect us and our health,” a sailor onboard the carrier told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We are really disappointed in how they handled it and we want our captain back.”
More than 250,000 people have signed a petition calling for Crozier to be reinstated at Change.org.
U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper defended Crozier’s dismissal in two televised interviews over the weekend. Esper said he supported Modly for making a “very tough decision” in the case.
“It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by navy leadership,” Esper said.
U.S. President Donald Trump also backed Crozier’s firing “100 per cent” at a press conference over the weekend.
“I thought it was terrible what he did, to write a letter,” Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday. “I mean, this isn’t a class on literature,” said the president, who often changes federal policy and fires officials over Twitter.
“This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear powered. And he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter. He could call and ask and suggest.”
Modly told the aircraft carrier’s crew that Crozier may have been “stupid,” officials told Reuters on Monday. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee have condemned Crozier’s firing.
“Captain Crozier was justifiably concerned about the health and safety of his crew, but he did not handle the immense pressure appropriately,” they wrote in a joint statement. “However, relieving him of his command is an overreaction.
“Throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation is not going to solve the growing crisis aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.”
Tweed Roosevelt, the great grandson of former president Theodore Roosevelt, called Crozier a “hero” in an op-ed for the New York Times on Friday.
“In this era when so many seem to place expediency over honour, it is heartening that so many others are showing great courage, some even risking their lives. Theodore Roosevelt, in his time, chose the honorable course,” Tweed Roosevelt wrote. “Captain Crozier has done the same.”
The U.S. Navy has since committed to offloading 2,700 sailors from the ship over the coming week.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
—With files from The Associated Press and Reuters