May 21 (UPI) -- The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has returned to sea after months of being moored in Guam following an outbreak of the deadly and infectious coronavirus among its crew, the U.S. Navy said.
The vessel left Guam and entered the Philippine Sea on Thursday to conduct carrier qualification flights with Carrier Air Wing 11, the Navy said in a statement.
"It feels great to be back at sea," said Rear Adm. Stu Baker, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9. "Getting Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Air Wing 11 one step closer to returning to their mission in the Indo-Pacific is a great achievement for the crew."
The ship docked in Guam on March 27, after sailors on board tested positive for COVID-19. By the end of April, more than 1,100 of its nearly 4,900 crew had been infected with the virus.
Once moored, some 4,000 crew members were evacuated from the vessel, which has since been cleaned and disinfected, the Navy said.
The aircraft carrier was now operating with a scaled-back crew, who returned to the ship from quarantine and after passing a rigorous return-to-work criteria.
"We are scaling our manning on board based on our mission requirement," said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the vessel's commanding officer. "Carrier qualification requires fewer personnel than other missions, and bringing fewer sailors on board will enable enhanced social distancing while underway."
During the deployment, sailors on board the vessel will wear masks and execute COVID-19 prevention and mitigation policies, the Navy said, adding the entire crew will be under medical surveillance, in-person meetings will be minimized and meal hours will be adjusted to lessen interactions between crew.
The outbreak on the ship first made news late March when its former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, pleaded with the Navy in a four-page letter for more resources to combat the outbreak.
The letter was made public and Crozier was fired, however top Navy officials have asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper to reinstate him.
The Navy said late April that it will investigate the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak on the ship.