US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt Photo: Xinhua

More than 10 percent of the 4,800 crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Navy said Saturday, days after the navy chief resigned over his mishandling of the outbreak.

“Ninety-two percent of the TR crew have been tested. As of today, 550 were positive, 3,673 were negative,” a US Navy spokesman told AFP.

The spokesman said 3,696 have been moved to hotels and barracks available on Guam, where the ship has been docked since its former captain blew the whistle on the outbreak, igniting a public standoff with the Pentagon that culminated in the resignation of US Navy secretary Thomas Modly on Tuesday.

Modly stepped down five days after removing the Roosevelt’s captain, Brett Crozier, for writing a letter – that was leaked to the media – describing the virus-struck vessel’s dire situation and alleging the Pentagon was not paying adequate attention to it.

The removal of Crozier, respected in the military and popular with his crew, was seen as heavy-handed and decided too quickly, before an investigation was carried out.

A navy veteran with a spotless career, Crozier had written a letter to his superiors in late March complaining of an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak among the Roosevelt’s crew, and called on the Pentagon to allow him to vacate the nuclear-powered ship and sterilize it.

“The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”

The letter was published by the San Francisco Chronicle, a leak Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Modly insinuated was deliberate and violated the Pentagon’s chain of command. 

Modly sparked outrage Monday after he flew from Washington to Guam, where the warship is docked, to defend his actions to the crew in a forceful, profanity-laced speech in which he accused Crozier of “betrayal.”

Hours later, back in Washington, Modly issued an apology, but President Donald Trump publicly questioned Crozier’s treatment and said he would get directly involved.

Modly “resigned of his own accord, putting the Navy and the sailors above self so that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the Navy as an institution, can move forward,” Esper noted.

Esper said Modly’s replacement as acting Navy secretary will be current Army Undersecretary Jim McPherson, a retired admiral.

Modly was the second navy chief to depart in just over four months. In November, Esper fired Navy secretary Richard Spencer after he pushed back against Trump’s protection of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who had been charged with war crimes and convicted of lesser charges.

AFP