Streetwise Professor

March 31, 2020

We Need Data on the Virus, and the USS Roosevelt Is an Invaluable Source of It

Filed under: China,CoronaCrisis,Military,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 1:38 pm

There is an ongoing outbreak of Covid-19 on the Nimitz class carrier, USS Roosevelt. The outbreak is severe, and today the CO, Capt. Brett Crozier, wrote an impassioned letter requesting onshore quarantine of the entire crew.

The first criticism that Captain Crozier raises is “Inappropriate focus on testing.” Crozier objects that tests provide little information: given the close proximity of those on board, they have presumptively been exposed, and should be isolated. Further, Crozier quantifies a relatively high rate of false negatives.

The captain is certainly correct regarding what is his primary responsibility–his ship and crew. But testing on the Roosevelt could provide invaluable information that could lead to far better policies in the United States, and the world at large. From a larger perspective, the opportunity for testing on the Roosevelt is something that cannot be allowed to slip away.

As I have noted repeatedly here, and on Twitter, policy is currently based on incredibly flawed data. In fact, the most useful piece of data is from a cruise ship Diamond Princess. The Roosevelt could provide a far bigger sample, and one that contains valuable information about the impact on non-elderly, relatively healthy individuals.

Even one of the things that Captain Crozier objects to–the presence of false negatives–is important. Quantifying that rate can provide information that greatly improves the inferences that can be drawn from other samples (apropos my earlier Bayes Rule post).

I understand that there are myriad competing considerations here. The health of the crew. The operational readiness of one of the most important combatants in the US Navy. Operational safety–e.g., who is going to operate the reactors and ensure that other systems are maintained properly even if the ship is not deployed? (You don’t leave a CVN parked in the driveway for a few weeks.)

Among those competing considerations, from Captain Crozier’s perspective, testing is indeed a near irrelevance. But it is extremely relevant for informing how we deal with the crisis around the world. The social value of this data is great indeed. I hope that those in the Pentagon, and in the administration, find a way to address Captain Crozier’s concerns while at the same time seizing on this opportunity to generate data that could save thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

Coda: Another benefit here is that by the nature of the military, there would be excellent data at hand on virtually any interesting covariate you can think of–age, health conditions, socioeconomic background, etc. Combining BUPERS data with testing and clinical data from CVN-71 could provide a plethora of actionable insights.

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  1. Excellent point. But. “You don’t leave a CVN parked in the driveway for a few weeks.” As far as I can see quite a few of the USN’s big carriers were recently “parked in a driveway” on the East Coast, clustered together such that one nuclear sub with a good payload of mines could cut them off from the ocean.

    Is there any chance that the USN is no more competent than the CDC and FDA?

    Comment by dearieme — March 31, 2020 @ 2:20 pm

  2. It’s very interesting, the constant conflation of a positive test for coronavirus with a presumption of grave illness. 1% of the passengers on the Diamond Princess died, if I’m not mistaken. How many of those dead were young and fit?

    Comment by Christopher L Hunt — March 31, 2020 @ 3:09 pm

  3. A lot of stall is being placed in the UK & Europe on the Dutch testing programme. I’ll try and find you a link.

    Comment by David Mercer — March 31, 2020 @ 3:25 pm

  4. @dearieme–1. Thanks. 2. Re parked in a driveway, about 1/2 of US CVNs are in port at any one time. The metaphor I was aiming for was that unlike your car, you just can’t leave it sitting there with nobody doing anything to it. Ships require constant attention, even in port–especially when they have multiple nuclear reactors on board.

    I remember reading a Naval Institute Magazine article in the 70s or early-80s arguing that the Soviets could paralyze the US Navy by bringing down a few bridges on the East Coast. Early warning plus the ability to sortie quickly can minimize the risk of being trapped, but it’s real.

    Ask the Russians at Port Arthur. Or the Americans at Pearl Harbor (or the Philippines, which was even more inexcusable).

    There is a big trade-off between economies of scale in port infrastructure, and dispersal for operational security and flexibility. Alas, the lack of a peer competitor for the US Navy for going on 35 years has almost certainly degraded sensitivity to the latter considerations.

    Comment by cpirrong — March 31, 2020 @ 3:45 pm

  5. @Christopher–I don’t know about fitness, but I think only 1 of the deceased was under 60. The estimates of the death rate of the relatively young from the DP sample are very imprecise exactly because of the small number of deaths and the small sample size. That’s why the Roosevelt could provide a lot of very valuable information.

    Comment by cpirrong — March 31, 2020 @ 3:47 pm

  6. Diamond Princess: The original paper on the ship reported seven deaths, all older than 70. Later an eighth died, in his seventies. I think I’ve seen an allusion to a subsequent ninth and tenth death but I don’t know their ages.

    The median passenger was 58.

    Comment by dearieme — March 31, 2020 @ 4:39 pm

  7. Everyone should read that link:

    Comment by Richard Whitney — March 31, 2020 @ 6:24 pm

  8. @cpirrong

    The San Diego-Coronado Bridge was designed so the middle sections could be removed/destroyed to avoid trapping the fleet in NS San Diego. The carriers are tied up to North Island, on the seaward side of the bridge,

    There are something like 9,000 passengers plus crew stuck at sea trying to find a safe harbor. Holland America has two ships, that embarked early March prior to the rapid onset of closings. See WSJ article.

    Comment by The Pilot — March 31, 2020 @ 6:51 pm

  9. If you sail under the Coronado bridge, you can spot the sections designed to float away. They look like barges instead of open steel structure.

    Comment by The Pilot — March 31, 2020 @ 6:52 pm

  10. Reports here of the USN losing the operational capability of USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt carriers due to Covid-19 outbreaks. If true that’s a quarter of CSGs out of action.

    Comment by David Mercer — April 1, 2020 @ 5:14 am

  11. Governments appear to be mostly worried about ICU capacity (beds, ventilators, staff) and are prepared to spend trillions on isolation in order to reduce the risk of ICU overcrowding. Given we older people are the most at risk why not impose movement limits on us and let the rest get on with their everyday lives. We would save trillions, our economies, interest on debt for what a billion on isolating we oldies.

    Regarding China’s culpability on this and past pandemics trying to get reparations will be futile however if the G20 less China declared not one country will pay back any debt outstanding to China then the CCP will have to wear the consequences of its own ‘carelessness’. Initially Trump would be the only leader with the guts to do it and then other countries will follow suit by government declaration or from the pressure of the populace for them to do so. Let us not forget where this started, the CCP has to pay for this.

    Take care and all the best from the Land Downunder

    Comment by Alessandro — April 1, 2020 @ 4:37 pm

  12. I loved the headline on Breitbart “Navy Captain Pleads For Help”

    The Navy doesn’t plead.

    Go Army

    Comment by Joe Walker — April 1, 2020 @ 5:07 pm

  13. Only took three days for the Navy to relieve the Captain of his Command…

    So if he hadn’t written the memo and a huge percent of crew becomes ill… would have he gotten into trouble for being negligent…

    The Catch 22…

    I actually learned a great deal more about the Diamond Princess issues and found the false negatives to be an extra, new data point.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — April 2, 2020 @ 4:53 pm

  14. Craig – check out

    Were you aware of the tests in San Miguel County?

    Comment by David Mercer — April 3, 2020 @ 2:11 am

  15. Prof – grateful for your thoughts on Captain Crozier.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — April 3, 2020 @ 11:14 am

  16. @Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break. I’d planned to write a post on him over the weekend. Short answer: it’s complicated. Knowing the military, I can think of scenarios where he’s a hero, and those where he is a renegade. Based on the public record, it’s impossible to tell which. Your conclusion will depend on your priors regarding the military.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 3, 2020 @ 1:15 pm

  17. Italy was engaged in a war of words with Russia today over allegations Moscow hid spies among doctors it sent to the country’s coronavirus epicentre.

    The fierce exchange followed claims made by unnamed sources in an Italian newspaper that 80 percent of Russia’s coronavirus aid is ‘useless’.

    Just imagine what happens if Italians also discover there is no Babbo Natale.

    Comment by Ivan — April 4, 2020 @ 5:48 am

  18. Prof I hate to make another request on top of Crozier but what the hell is going on in the oil space between TrumpPutin and bin Salman?

    It seems like Trump and Putin are arranging some deal where Putin abandons Maduro leaving Trump free to take him out – not surprising given the Venizolanos are apparently selling oil at $5/bbl because they’re out of storage space, which must cheese Trump off no end. But what’s in it for Putin, given that he started this price war? And that’s assuming there is a deal anyway. Obviously lots going on behind the scenes but I’m buggered if I know what it is.

    And O/T, I’ve never seen a bunch of people begging to be glassed like the Iranian leadership is begging for it.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — April 4, 2020 @ 3:24 pm

  19. @Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break. Just posted on Capt. Crozier. I will respond re Trump/Putin/MbS later. The request line is open!

    Comment by cpirrong — April 5, 2020 @ 3:36 pm

  20. @cpirrong Hello SWP. Have you seen the article on the site Task and Purpose? Interesting read.

    Comment by dhand — April 17, 2020 @ 8:38 am

  21. @dhand. Yes, I had. Thanks. I’ve been following the USS Roosevelt story closely.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 18, 2020 @ 1:41 pm

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