Capt. Brett E. Crozier, the Navy captain who was removed from command of the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, has tested positive for Covid-19, according to two Naval Academy classmates of Crozier’s who are close to him and his family.
A Navy spokesman declined to comment on Crozier’s Covid status.
The commander began exhibiting symptoms before he was removed from the warship on Thursday, two of his classmates said. Crozier was fired following a leak to The San Francisco Chronicle of a letter he had emailed to Navy leaders that detailed the failures on the service’s part to provide the necessary resources to swiftly move sailors off the carrier and disinfect areas on board as the virus spread through the ship.
Thomas B. Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy, said he had lost confidence in Crozier’s ability to command the ship effectively as it dealt with the evolving crisis after Crozier sent the letter on an unclassified email system to 20 to 30 people. Sending such a letter, Modly said, caused unnecessary alarm about the operational readiness of the ship and undermined the chain of command. “In sending it out pretty broadly, he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked,” Modly said. “And that’s part of his responsibility.”
In a briefing Saturday, President Trump offered support for Modly’s decision. “He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter,” the president said of Crozier. “I thought it was terrible what he did.”
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that there were 155 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among sailors aboard the aircraft carrier, and that more than half of the ship had been tested. So far there have been no hospitalizations.
“There is an investigation ongoing,” Esper said of Crozier’s actions. “All the services at times relieve commanders without the benefit of an investigation up front because they’ve lost confidence in them. It’s certainly not unique to the Navy.”
The news of Crozier’s diagnosis is likely to fuel further skepticism of the Navy’s handling of the outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier, which has already received notable criticism from the rank and file. On Friday, videos circulated showing hundreds of sailors aboard the Roosevelt cheering for Crozier as he disembarked the ship. Memes depicting the Navy captain rescuing his sailors from a burning building over saving his own career sprouted up across social media.
Crozier’s firing has also raised concerns with Democratic lawmakers. In a statement, the Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee condemned his removal, although they acknowledged that Crozier might have made missteps in his handling of the situation. “Captain Crozier was justifiably concerned about the health and safety of his crew, but he did not handle the immense pressure appropriately,” the lawmakers said. “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,” the lawmakers added.
On Sunday, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. expressed criticism of the Navy’s actions on ABC’s “This Week,” saying, “I think it’s close to criminal the way they’re dealing with this guy.”
“I think he should have a commendation rather than be fired,” Biden added.
A Navy spokesman said that Crozier has been reassigned to the headquarters of the Naval Air Forces Pacific command in San Diego, but that he must complete a quarantine period first.
The captain was being quarantined in “distinguished visitors quarters” on Naval Base Guam, according to two of his classmates. It is unclear when he was first tested for Covid-19 or when he received his results.
The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, which is homeported in San Diego, arrived in the U.S. territory of Guam on March 27 and holds a crew of nearly 5,000 service members. All sailors who are evacuated from the carrier must have a negative test result for Covid-19 before they can be quarantined ashore. At least 400 from the vessel were expected to be sent to hotels in Guam on Sunday, according to Mary Rhodes, the president of the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, who is helping the Navy with the logistics of these transfers. “This is an emergent situation and a humanitarian effort,” said Rhodes. “We have 13 hotels to receive up to 4,000 military personnel.”
The sailors will join roughly 625 other service members from the Roosevelt who have already tested negative for the virus and have been sent to quarantine in hotels over the past few days.
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Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
John Ismay is a staff writer who covers armed conflict for The New York Times Magazine. He is based in Washington.