NBC News reports that in April, the federal government placed orders for over 100,000 new body bags, as attested by both public records and internal documents acquired by NBC. The public record shows a $5.1 million purchase by the Department of Homeland Security from E.M. Oil Transport, Inc. for “human remains pouches.”
In a text exchange with NBC, the company’s marketing manager, Mike Pryor, said that the order has not yet been paid for or shipped to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said, “I hope to God that they don't need my order and that they cancel it.”
Additionally, the supply distributor ISO reports on its own website that its human remains pouch product is “actively being procured by the U[nited] S[tates] government, with procurement history within the last 90 days.” Eight contracts have been awarded and are valued in total at approximately $12.1 million.
Also in April, the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened public bidding to “contract for the delivery, setup, maintenance, and removal of refrigerated trailers that will be used to store human remains from either the COVID-19 and or other related deaths.”
NBC writes that it obtained a “cache of internal documents” that includes a “‘pre-decisional draft’ of the coronavirus task force's ‘incident outlook.’” The draft mentions several points of concern about major risks, including testing availability, the absence of a proven vaccine or treatment, and the potential for a “catastrophic resurgence” of the virus.
A senior white house official who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity said that President Donald J. Trump is taking into account the potential dangers of loosening social distancing measures and is following the advice of Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator. The official wrote in an email, “At each of the three phases, they make recommendations for what needs to be done to safely begin reopening, while keeping in place mitigation efforts like social distancing.”
NBC reports that it also acquired a preliminary version of a document supporting Trump’s strategy to reopen states, developed by interagency teams composed of employees from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, Defense Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and others. In this document, the teams reported that there were several possible obstacles to the strategy, including the possibility that relaxing stay-at-home measures could lead to more deaths and resistance by Americans who fear that is the case.
NBC writes that the document states, “Late indicators and human decision making may delay mitigation to prevent catastrophic resurgence" and that
States may not be following the recommended 'gating' process to make community mitigation adjustments," the document says. "Individual mitigation measures (e.g. hand washing) are often easy to support, but stricter community mitigation measures (e.g. social distancing) can be disruptive making them difficult to sustain. Individuals travelling from high impact areas to low impact areas may have contracted COVID-19 but are asymptomatic. Mitigation fatigue. Community mitigation measures may not have the desired impact. Insufficient [state and local] staff to implement moderate mitigation measures.
The White House official that communicated with NBC said that Trump is aware of these concerns and is also mindful of a possible resurgence. The official said, “we… understand the novel nature of this virus and that nothing is foolproof. We are encouraging extensive mitigation efforts in the public space to ensure health and safety.”
Some figures among Trump’s advisers have placed higher emphasis on health concerns than on economic impacts. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health, said that “If by [the time a state reopens] we have put into place all of the countermeasures that you need to address this, we should do reasonably well,” but that “If we don't do that successfully, we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter.”
When asked about the contrast between between his statements and his task force’s assessments, CNN and NBC report that Trump has said, “I’m a cheerleader for the country” and that “I want to give people in the country hope.”
According to NBC’s description of the internal incident outlook report, a significant complication for communications during the reopening strategy is a “lack of trust in government messaging.”