Bracing for catastrophe as coronavirus infections in the U.S. continue to soar, the Defense Department has ordered 100,000 “military-style body bags for potential civilian use” in the coming weeks, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
After weeks of Donald Trump downplaying the outbreak as nothing serious and dawdling on mobilizing the full resources available to the U.S. government, and a fumbled early response from institutions ranging from federal agencies to local health systems, covid-19 has spread to all 50 states, DC, and four U.S. territories. According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine tracker, there are over 209,000 confirmed cases across the U.S. with over 4,750 deaths. (This number is now becoming inaccurate on a near-hourly basis.) The U.S. became the nation with the highest number of confirmed cases in the world last week, while the death toll has surpassed the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and is expected to climb to many times that number.
According to Bloomberg, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has requested the 100,000 body bags through the Defense Department. Initially, some of those will come from a Pentagon stockpile of 50,000 nylon bags originally intended for use in combat zones. FEMA hasn’t given the Defense Logistics Agency, which manages stockpiles and supply chains for the U.S. military and some federal agencies, a specific time when it wants the body bags yet, but Bloomberg reported FEMA wants them as soon as possible and the Pentagon is finalizing production contracts.
A FEMA spokesperson told Bloomberg that its “prudent planning” includes “mortuary contingencies.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Major General Jeff Taliaferro told the news agency that FEMA has also requested that the military provide a “mortuary affairs support team for New York.”
The line from the White House in recent days has become that the U.S. could see around 200,000 deaths, and that such an outcome would actually be the result of Trump handling the situation very well.
“You’re talking about 2.2 million deaths,” Trump said at a press conference this week, referring to some worst-case estimates. “So if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000, it’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 [thousand] and 200,000, we altogether have done a very good job.”
As recently as last week, Trump pushed a terrifying plan to lower federal social distancing guidelines that have been instrumental in preventing the outbreak from exploding even faster on a county-by-county basis before later backtracking for now. The Wednesday edition of Trump’s daily news briefings, which have been filled with misinformation and bizarre political theater, focused on a U.S. plan to deploy ships off the coast of Venezuela rather than the 200,000 deaths that may occur in the coming months.