NORFOLK, Va. - Following a deployment overseas to the Middle East, the Navy says it is keeping the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group at sea for now in order to protect the crew from the coronavirus.
The aircraft carrier left Naval Station Norfolk in mid-November following repairs to an electrical problem and had been on deployment since then in the Navy's 5th and 6th Fleets.
Following a deployment, Carrier Strike Groups enter into what is known as the "sustainment phase" where they remain in high readiness if they are called upon to quickly deploy again.
The sustainment phase is typically done pierside, which would normally see the Truman return to Naval Station Norfolk.
Instead, U.S. 2nd Fleet says the Truman, escort ships, and air wing will remain at sea in the Western Atlantic, in the 2nd Fleet's area of operation, in order to protect the crew from the risks posed by COVID-19.
"The ship is entering a period in which it needs to be ready to respond and deploy at any time," said Vice Admiral Andrew "Woody" Lewis, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet in a statement. "Normally we can do that pierside, but in the face of COVID-19, we need to protect our most valuable asset, our people, by keeping the ship out to sea."
In a conference call Monday, Navy leadership told News 3 it has been 42 days since the Truman made a port visit and more than 14 days since anyone has come aboard the strike group ships. With no one showing symptoms, the Navy is confident the coronavirus has not made it on the ships.
They are cleaning the ships often and any supplies being brought to the ships will come from Norfolk in large cardboard boxes and will exceed any time period the virus can live on cardboard.
"After completing a successful deployment we would love nothing more than to be reunited with our friends and families,” said Rear Admiral Andrew Loiselle, commander Carrier Strike Group 8 in the same statement.
"We recognize that these are unique circumstances and the responsible thing to do is to ensure we are able to answer our nation’s call while ensuring the health and safety of our Sailors. We thank you for your continued love and support as we remain focus on this important mission."
As the Navy works to respond to the pandemic, Vice Admiral Lewis told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo that lessons learned from the experiences of other ships and commands are being shared and applied.
"It is a very dynamic situation and we’re learning very quickly as we go and sharing those best practices across the Navy and across the globe," he noted.
Rear Admiral Loiselle told reporters Monday that most Sailors on the Truman understand why the ship is remaining at sea and morale remains high.
"Everybody is understanding how important it is for us to be able to perform our mission, that this one is a little bit different. Even down to the 18-20 year old Sailors, they understand why we are doing this," Rear Admiral Loiselle said.
The Navy says it will continue to monitor the situation with COVID-19 and provide an update to the crew and their families in about three weeks.
This is a developing story. Stay with News 3 for updates.