Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials have requested that the Pentagon obtain 100,000 body bags for them. The request comes as the agency prepares for an expected increase in the number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.
FEMA is sourcing the 100,000 body bags, also known as Human Remains Pouches, through an interagency group that directed it to the Department of Defense. To help fulfill the request, the Pentagon will initially draw some from a stockpile of 50,000 that it maintains.
The request is being handled by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Troop Support unit. The unit manages the Pentagon’s stockpile of the green nylon, 95-inch by 38-inch bags that are usually distributed to war zones. Sources state that the unit has already contacted the current contractor who manufactures the body bags to assess its manufacturing capabilities. However, a formal order has yet to be placed.
The body bag request serves as a somber counterpoint to the Pentagon’s much-applauded deployment of two hospital ships to the cities of New York and Los Angeles. The two Mercy-class ships are being sent to help alleviate the pressure on regional hospitals that are being overwhelmed by the pandemic.
On Tuesday, a top White House official stated that they’re projecting that as many as 200,000 Americans may die from the coronavirus, even with 30 more days of the most stringent public health restrictions in place. Upon reviewing the projections, President Donald Trump warned the American public of the difficult period ahead. (Related: New model predicts nearly 2,300 Americans are going to DIE of coronavirus on April 15 alone as pandemic lasts until June.)
“This is going to be a painful two weeks,” stated President Trump. “Our strength will be tested, our endurance will be tried.”
Before this, the government had not shared details on its projections for the spread of the coronavirus, which has currently killed more than 4,000 Americans and infected more than 200,000.
According to a FEMA spokesman, the agency is making “prudent planning” for potential future needs caused by the outbreak. Included in this planning are preparations for “mortuary contingencies” from U.S. states.
However, while the body bags may be necessary for some state and local governments, the spokesman confirmed that FEMA has not received a shipment yet. Sources state that the Defense Logistics Agency does not yet have a specific delivery date to fulfill FEMA’s request but the Pentagon is coming close to an agreement with its current contractor on the numbers and timelines for delivery.
While the body bags have yet to be delivered, the official said that FEMA was working with regional and state health and emergency managers to increase available assets. They also added that the body bags will be distributed to states requesting them.
The vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General jeff Taliaferro, outlined the general Pentagon-FEMA process that’s in place Monday.
Taliaferro confirmed that the Joint Staff is in “in close partnership with them to identify what their needs are.” These included “mission assignments” for prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat, and “other supplies” that came on Monday.
Additionally, Taliaferro also mentioned that the Joint Staff also “a mission assignment from FEMA for a mortuary affairs support team for New York” and that they were in the process of identifying personnel.
At the moment, regional hospitals in places such as those in New York and New Jersey have been securing refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues and help hold bodies in areas where the capacity for them has run out. FEMA is currently sending 85 more of these trucks to New York City to help its morgues which have been overwhelmed by the increasing number of deaths from the outbreak.