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U.S. Navy combat ship halted in Cuba amid COVID-19 outbreak

The littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee is in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Navy announced, with military officials now looking to offer voluntary vaccine boosters to the ship's crew. File Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aaron Lau/U.S. Navy
The littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee is in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Navy announced, with military officials now looking to offer voluntary vaccine boosters to the ship's crew. File Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aaron Lau/U.S. Navy

Dec. 23 (UPI) -- A U.S. Navy combat ship deployed to Caribbean and Eastern Pacific drug trafficking missions halted in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, over the weekend amid COVID-19 outbreak.

The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee's deployment to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to intercept drug trafficking paused at a naval port in Guantanamo Bay where it had stopped for a scheduled port visit, according to a U.S. Navy statement.

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While it has not been determined whether the Omicron variant of COVID-19 caused the outbreak, Defense Department officials are preparing to offer boosters shots to members of the crew on a voluntary basis to try to stem the spread, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

The ship had stopped at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay port last Monday to refuel, but had to extend its stay due to the COVID-19 outbreak among some sailors in the fully vaccinated crew, The New York Times reported.

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More than 100 sailors, along with a helicopter combat crew and Coast Guard law enforcement unit, were on board when the ship left its home port in Jacksonville, Fla. on Dec. 14, according to the Times.

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Only some of the infected sailors were experiencing mild symptoms, Commander Kate Meadows, a Navy spokeswoman, told the Times.

The crew held a Christmas service on the pier Saturday, which allowed them to stay socially distanced, according to public health guidelines, Meadows told the Times.

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All of the crew are fully vaccinated, and all sailors who have tested positive have been isolated away from other crew members, the Navy said in a statement Friday.

More than 98% of all active duty sailors have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest Navy data, Military.com reported.

The Navy did not mention exactly how many sailors were infected on the Milwaukee, and it's not yet known if any of the infections included the Omicron variant, which has recently accounted for 73% of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States.

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"The specific COVID variant has yet to be determined and all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are being followed, including contact tracing and testing protocols," the statement said.

Last year, the first major COVID-19 outbreak in the military occurred on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier operating in the Pacific.

More than 1,000 of the 4,800 crew members on the Roosevelt tested positive and one sailor, Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker, Jr., died.

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The Roosevelt was stuck in Guam for nearly two months because of the outbreak.

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