The U.S. Army warned two months ago that up to 150,000 Americans could die in a coronavirus outbreak, but that’s now within the range of President Donald Trump’s best-case scenario.
An unclassified briefing document prepared Feb. 3 U.S. Army-North projected that “between 80,000 and 150,000 could die” in an extreme “Black Swan” analysis, but after weeks of inaction President Donald Trump now concedes optimistically between 100,000 and 240,000 could lose their lives to the virus, reported The Daily Beast.
The document reached high levels within U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which early on helped civilian agencies evacuate and quarantine Americans overseas, and came two days after Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered “prudent planning” for a military response to a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.
The Daily Beast confirmed the document reached Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy at the Pentagon, but it’s not clear how widely the Army’s death estimate was distributed within the government.
NORTHCOM commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said Wednesday that the assessment reflected “worst-case” planning, but declined discuss the briefing in detail.
On March 4, a month after the Army’s briefing, Trump told downplayed the World Health Organization’s coronavirus death estimate of 3.4 percent as a “false number” to Fox News host Sean Hannity, saying he had a “hunch” it would be lower.
The briefing accurately predicted that asymptomatic people can “easily” transmit the virus, which the Army found to be outside medical consensus at the time, and warned that military personnel would be needed to provide logistics and medical support during a pandemic.
The estimate assumed military infections would be at the same rate as the civilian population, but the Military Times reported Tuesday that troop infections have actually come at a higher rate.
The briefing also assumed — inaccurately, as it turns out — that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control would successfully contact trace all U.S. and Canadian coronavirus cases to contain the outbreak, which still hasn’t happened.
Trump received briefings on the virus throughout January, when it was mostly contained to China, and the Senate Health Committee received one Jan. 24, about a week before the Army briefing.