A Coast Guard cutter bound for a counter-narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific turned around and headed back to its Alameda, Calif., homeport amid a COVID-19 outbreak on the ship.
Cutter Stratton was commissioned in 2012 and has participated in operations including enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea, maritime training and exercises with Asia-Pacific nations, and combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Statton left its homeport Oct. 28 with a crew of 133 for its latest Pacific mission. The Coast Guard said that “prior to getting underway, the crew underwent a restriction-of-movement period where members were required to self-quarantine and pass two COVID tests.”
On Nov. 11 and Nov. 12, though, “several” members of the ship’s crew began to develop symptoms at sea and were administered rapid COVID-19 tests. Eleven crew members tested positive, and the affected personnel along with close contacts were quarantined.
“The safety of our people and the public remain my top priority,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, said in a statement. “We continue to perform all statutory missions while taking the necessary precautions to protect our members and the public. We are committed to maintaining our operational readiness and will continue to perform critical missions that protect our national interests, promote economic prosperity and ensure public safety.”
USCG said Wednesday that the crew members’ symptoms were “mild” and they have been receiving medical care. After arriving in Alameda, Coast Guard medical personnel tested the entire crew for COVID-19 and they went into quarantine.
“The crew’s health and safety is my highest priority,” said Capt. Bob Little, Stratton’s commanding officer. “Stratton has a highly resilient crew, always dedicated to the mission. Our mission today is to get healthy so we can continue our service to the nation.”
Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey said Wednesday that USCG was contract tracing to try to identify the source of the outbreak.
Stratton will remain in port while its crew is under COVID-19 quarantine. “The cutter will continue to meet all inport watchstanding requirements while at homeport,” USCG said.
In early October, 14 cases of coronavirus among members and close contact put Kodiak Air Station in Alaska at red, or high, COVID-19 risk level. At least one of the cases was a crew member on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar. One of the children who fell ill was believed to have been exposed at the Child Development Center Annex, which was closed as families of children who attended daycare there were asked to quarantine for 14 days. The commissary and exchange were also closed, and the base started testing personnel.
The Coast Guard station went from an amber risk level to red, with guidelines to remain there until the outbreak subsided with a 14-day downward trajectory in cases. On Oct. 16, Kodiak’s risk level was reduced to amber, or moderate.
News of the USCG outbreak there also prompted a surge in testing in the Alaska community. The source of the station outbreak was determined to be an airstation crew member who had returned from travel that was related to work and began to develop COVID symptoms but did not self-quarantine.
The Coast Guard Academy also has faced COVID challenges, with six football players testing positive for the virus last month after two sought medical care for their symptoms.
The academy converted a research lab on campus into its own coronavirus testing center, and began random surveillance testing in August that tests about 20 percent of the population there each week.
“This was really an emergency situation so it was really all hands on deck where we looked around and said, ‘Can we do this?'” Joshua Gray, section chief of chemistry at the academy, told NBC Connecticut. “And the answer was, we can.”
“It lets us know what percent of the population here is unknowingly infected,” said Gray. “Once we know those numbers, it lets us know how big of a problem COVID is at our base for people not showing symptoms.”