Schools should take note from carrier outbreak, UB doctor says

May 11, 2020

One University at Buffalo doctor is looking at how schools can learn lessons from a COVID-19 outbreak aboard a warship in the Pacific Ocean.

Credit Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Chris Liaghat / U.S. Navy photo

The USS Theodore Roosevelt is a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 5,000 sailors. In March it was the setting of a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak, but Dr. Kevin Gibbons, the executive director of UBMD Physicians’ Group, said the outbreak and response could hold the keys to how schools plan a safe return to the classroom. 

“These are generally young, healthy individuals. None of them went home at night to live with their 55-year-old parents, and their 78-year-old grandparent,” Gibbons said. “So this gives you an idea of what this disease is like in young, healthy individuals, and it may give us some clue on what it may be like on high school and college students in the fall.”

Gibbons also likened the age makeup of enlisted men and officers to those found with students and teachers. This he said, makes it almost like a case study. 

“Only 60% of the positive cases had any symptoms. There was one death among an individual that I believe was 41 years old,” Gibbons said. “So the case fatality rate in this very closed population was less than one tenth of one percent, which is actually less than the fatality rate of the flu.” 

Interventions Gibbons said schools should take away from the carrier include healthy sailors being taken off the ship, and every crew member getting tested multiple times.