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By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy destroyer has been hit with a coronavirus outbreak as it carried out a counter-narcotics mission, U.S. officials said on Friday, dealing another blow to the military as it grapples with the pandemic.

U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said more than a dozen sailors on board the Kidd had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The Pentagon confirmed an outbreak on the ship, which had been carrying out its mission in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, and declined to discuss the exact number of sailors infected.

It said a sailor who become sick was medically evacuated off the ship and later tested positive for the virus, leading to further testing of the crew that yielded more positive results.

“I don’t have the number, but I think the Navy will be able to give that information later. They are preparing to return to port where they will undertake efforts to clean the ship,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a news briefing when asked about the Reuters report.

The Kidd is believed to be the only Navy ship currently at sea with coronavirus cases.

The aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was in the Asia Pacific earlier this month when it had a coronavirus outbreak, forcing it to eventually dock in Guam. One sailor who was infected died, and nearly 850 out of the roughly 4,800 personnel on the carrier have tested positive for the virus.

The Roosevelt’s commander had called on Navy leadership to evacuate the vast majority of the crew and to disinfect the ship in a letter that leaked to the public, raising further questions about the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak.

The letter, which was obtained by a number of news outlets, set in motion a series of events that led to Captain Brett Crozier’s firing and the resignation of acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be meeting the chief of naval operations later on Friday to discuss the findings of an investigation into the events surrounding Crozier’s firing.

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The Kidd is part of the Trump administration’s deployment of more Navy warships and aircraft to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific to fight drug cartels.

Announcing the deployment earlier this month, the Trump administration said the additional warships and aircraft were also aimed and preventing “corrupt actors” like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to smuggle more narcotics.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Paul Simao)

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Topics #Asia Pacific #Captain #Caribbean #chief of naval operations #commander #Idrees Ali #Paul Simao #Pentagon #sailor #Trump administration