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While public-health experts like Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx caution that the White House projection of 100,000 to 240,000 coronavirus deaths can be cut substantially if Americans continue to socially isolate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Department are preparing in case that estimate becomes a reality.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that FEMA requested through an interagency group that the Pentagon provide the body bags, known in military-industral-complex-speak as Human Remains Pouches. The Pentagon will reportedly pull from its existing stockpile of 50,000 to help fill the order, and is looking into buying more green nylon bags for American civilians. In New York and New Jersey, hospitals are already securing refrigerated trucks to hold bodies in case storage capacity is exceeded — though last week, the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Politico that they were confident they could handle the crisis without overloading the system.
The FEMA request is one of the most harrowing physical reminders of the pandemic’s toll, along with concerning details emerging from New York City, the center of the country’s crisis, which include the evangelical field hospital in Central Park, the U.S.N.S. Comfort docked at Pier 90, and the contingency plan for Rikers Island inmates to dig mass graves on Hart Island for $6 an hour. (Hospital workers, the nation’s 215,000 coronavirus patients, and the families of the 5,102 Americans who have died from COVID-19 need no such reminders.)
Though the request for 100,000 military body bags for use at home is grim, New York State, at least, is still way under the official projection for hospitalizations at this time. According to an estimate from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — which serves as the U.S. standard — the Empire State was expected to have some 50,000 hospitalizations on April 1. By the end of the day, there were 12,000, about a fifth of what was expected.