SARS-CoV-2 Infections and Serologic Responses among Military Personnel Deployed on the USNS COMFORT to New York City during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tahaniyat Lalani*, Tida K. Lee, Eric D. Laing, Andrew Ritter, Elizabeth Cooper, Melissa Lee, Matthew Baker, Tyler Baldino, Terrance Mcadoo, Shreshta Phogat, Emily Samuels, Huy Nguyen, Christopher C. Broder, Nusrat Epsi, Stephanie A. Richard, Tyler E. Warkentien, Eugene V. Millar, Timothy Burgess, Karl C. Kronmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) presents a unique challenge to United States Navy hospital ships. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection among US Navy personnel deployed on the USNS COMFORT to augment the inpatient health care capacity in New York City. Methods: This was a cross-sectional study conducted on USNS COMFORT crewmembers returning to Norfolk, Virginia, following deployment. Participants completed an electronic questionnaire and provided a serum sample at Day 14 post-deployment. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) results from testing of symptomatic crewmembers during deployment and Day 0 and Day 14 post-deployment screening swabs conducted on all crewmembers, per military order, were abstracted. SARS-CoV-2 infection was defined as a positive SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein immunoglobulin G antibody or PCR result. Results: Of the ship's total complement of 1200 crewmembers, 450 were enrolled: 432 (96.0%) completed the questionnaire and provided a serum sample. The median age of participants (interquartile range) was 30 (24-39) years, 50.8% were female, 58.6% were White, and 14.0% were Black; 80.1% had a clinical role during deployment. The cumulative prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection was 3.01% (13/432; 95% CI, 1.61%-5.09%). Twelve of 13 infections occurred in health care providers, and 8 of 13 were asymptomatic. The antibody profile of infected crewmembers varied by suspected timing of infection. Conclusions: We observed a low prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection among USNS COMFORT crewmembers despite the inherent risk of a shipboard deployment to an area with high rates of community transmission. Our findings suggest that early infection control measures mitigated the spread of SARS-CoV-2 among crewmembers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberofaa654
JournalOpen Forum Infectious Diseases
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • epidemiology
  • health care workers
  • shipboard


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