The coronavirus pandemic could be a 90-day problem with work and lifestyle adjustments possibly continuing “as late as July,” said the top U.S. military officer, a sharp contrast to remarks made by U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
"You're looking at late May, June, something in that range. Maybe, it could be as late as July," Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said when asked in a virtual town hall about how long the coronavirus crisis could last.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also advised those listening to the Pentagon town hall Tuesday that "in a period of months, we will get through this,” adding that the pandemic was "unprecedented” in his lifetime.
“I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long, at least, and we're taking all precautionary measures to do that, to be in it for the long haul,” Esper said.
The two U.S. military leaders based their guidance on “a variety of models” derived from how long the coronavirus has affected other nations. Milley acknowledged that the models “may or may not apply to the United States” because “frankly, no one actually knows” how long this will last.
The Pentagon leaders’ assessments diverge from that of their commander-in-chief, President Trump, who on Tuesday said during a Fox News interview that he would “like to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” less than three weeks away.
On Monday, the president questioned whether stay-at-home orders should continue much longer.
“America will again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting, a lot sooner,” Trump said.
Military playing big role in helping fight COVID-19
The U.S. military has joined health officials on the front lines of the pandemic. The Army Corps of Engineers is working to convert thousands of New York City hotel and dormitory rooms into temporary medical units to help combat COVID-19.
More than 8,000 National Guardsmen are responding to the coronavirus pandemic in all 50 U.S. states, four territories and the District of Columbia, according to officials. Tasks range from delivering meals to screening symptoms for testing facilities.
On Monday the USNS Mercy hospital ship left its San Diego port for Los Angeles to help support the city’s response to an overwhelming number of coronavirus cases.
The USNS Comfort hospital ship will leave its port in Norfolk, Virginia, “in less than 14 days” to travel to New York Harbor, Esper said Tuesday.
Five of the U.S. military’s expeditionary medical units are on “prepare-to-deploy orders,” with the defense secretary anticipating that the Pentagon will send field hospitals to Seattle and New York City in the coming days.
The U.S. military’s field hospitals and two hospital ships will provide triage and urgent care but will not treat coronavirus patients because they are not designed with segregated spaces needed to treat infectious diseases.
Instead, the military hospital ships and field hospitals sent to overwhelmed U.S. cities will free up local hospital beds and local medical professionals so they can devote more of their resources to isolating and treating those with the highly contagious COVID-19.
Both ships are preparing for a 1,000-bed mission, the largest mission set these ships can accommodate, U.S. Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham said last week.