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Navy keeping close eye on U.S. COVID-19 trends

The Chief of Personnel says the Navy is taking a "common sense, conditions-based approach" to sailor movements.

NORFOLK, Va. — Back in March, Defense Secretary Mark Esper put travel restrictions in place for military members to limit the spread of COVID-19, to protect lives during the global pandemic, and to preserve force readiness.

For the Navy, the "Stop Movement" order created a  backlog of about 42,000 sailors who were scheduled to move, creating a financial burden for some families.

Then in July, a pair of administrative orders from the Chief of Naval Operations laid the groundwork for some movements to resume.

But what happens if the nation's collective medical condition worsens again?

The United States is already the most affected country, with more than 8.2 million diagnosed coronavirus cases and at least 220,000 deaths. Hospitalizations are also on the rise in 41 states.

"We are also looking at those reports," said the Navy's Chief of Personnel, Vice Admiral John Nowell, Jr. "And that's why you see us doing things like pushing folks to go and get the flu vaccine, not getting pandemic-fatigued and letting their guard down."

He said Navy leaders constantly "stress the idea of personal responsibility." That guidance includes urging mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, and avoiding large crowds.

Nowell says to protect the Navy's more than 344,000 active-duty sailors and their mission, his branch could pivot on local force health condition designations, if necessary.

"If we have an area that we take to Bravo and then we need to take it back to Charlie, then we will certainly do that to best keep sailors safe and, by extension, their families," he said.

Nowell said Navy operations are in a far better position today than they were in the spring, when the USS Theodore Roosevelt was hit with more than 1,200 COVID cases.

"While we are occasionally seeing a COVID case underway, we've learned a lot," he said. " And I do honestly believe that the safest place to be right now from the perspective of COVID is on a U.S. Navy ship underway."

Nowell said the Navy has 89 ships at sea as of Tuesday. He said that despite the pandemic, the Navy exceeded its recruiting goals for the year.