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Nearly one out of four sailors from the Navy destroyer USS Michael Murphy test positive for Covid

Gretchen Morgenson and Courtney Kube
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, Seaman Apprentice Kyle Darden, from Warrenton, Va., heaves a mooring line as the guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) gets underway to render honors to Battleship Missouri Memorial and USS Arizona Memorial during the official ceremony for the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Petty Officer 1st Class Devin Langer | AP

A Covid-19 outbreak among sailors assigned to the USS Michael Murphy, a guided missile destroyer in the Navy's Pacific Fleet, has sidelined most of the crew and delayed its training schedule, according to two U.S. military officials and one defense official.

Nearly a quarter of the roughly 300 sailors assigned to the ship have tested positive for Covid-19, the officials said. And while many Navy ships, especially those in port, have a handful of cases among assigned sailors, the officials acknowledge that the concentration of positives from the USS Michael Murphy is higher than has been seen with other ships.

A caretaker crew is on board until more sailors finish their time in quarantine, some as early as this week, the officials said. All positive cases from the Michael Murphy are ashore in Hawaii and no one has been hospitalized, the officials said. The ship, now docked at Pearl Harbor, is currently being cleaned, they added.

The defense and military officials insist the spate of positives has not had any operational impact on the ship or the Navy as a whole. The USS Michael Murphy is not scheduled to deploy before 2021.

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An Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, the Michael Murphy recently underwent maintenance and entered the basic phase of training. Several days of training earlier this month had to be re-scheduled as sailors were home in quarantine and isolation, the officials said, but insisted the ship and its crew can make up the time before the end of the year. Some of the training events are conducted out at sea, but the ship has not been able to leave port since the Covid outbreak.

There has been no impact to the ship's readiness, the U.S. military and defense officials said.

"Personnel assigned to USS Michael Murphy tested positive for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19), Nov. 4," said Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a spokesperson for Surface Forces Pacific, in a statement to NBC News. Citing policy, she declined to discuss specific Covid-19 numbers on the destroyer. "Personnel who have tested positive for Covid-19 have been placed in isolation," the statement continued. "Out of an abundance of caution, all close contacts and non-essential crew members are undergoing a two-week self-isolation period in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines."

Covid outbreaks can be dire for the Navy given the close quarters aboard its vessels. The USS Wayne E. Meyer, another destroyer currently in maintenance at Pearl Harbor, also recently reported several Covid cases among sailors assigned to the ship. It is not scheduled for immediate deployment.

In March, coronavirus swept through the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier underway in the Pacific with 4,779 in crew. In April, a sailor assigned to the Theodore Roosevelt died of Covid-19-related complications, the Navy said.

The Navy relieved the Theodore Roosevelt's commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, of command in early April after Crozier sounded the alarm to Navy leadership about the Navy's response to the coronavirus and his communication leaked to the media.

The then-acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly, said Crozier was relieved because he sent his communication over "nonsecure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command. Modly subsequently resigned after he ridiculed and then apologized to Crozier.

The outbreak aboard the Theodore Roosevelt was the subject of an analysis by Navy personnel published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. It found that 1,271 sailors, or 27 percent of the crew, tested positive for coronavirus between March 23, 2020 and May 18, 2020, the duration of the event. The authors noted that the virus spread quickly among the Roosevelt's crew, facilitated by close quarters and asymptomatic crew members.

"Those working in tighter spaces (e.g., reactor, engineering, supply, and weapons departments) appeared more likely to have confirmed or suspected Covid-19 than those working in a combination of open-air and confined conditions (e.g., air and deck crew)," the analysis concluded.

Among the infected crew members, more than three-quarters had no symptoms when they tested positive, the report said.