A leaked Pentagon memo to a military news website said the U.S. Defense Department should prepare to operate in a “globally-persistent” coronavirus environment without an effective vaccine at least until the summer of 2021.
“We have a long path ahead, with the real possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19,” reads the memo which, according to Task & Purpose, was authored for Secretary of Defense Mark Esper but does not yet bear his signature. “Therefore, we must now re-focus our attention on resuming critical missions, increasing levels of activity, and making necessary preparations should a significant resurgence of COVID-19 occur later this year.”
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the document was outdated but did not provide any other comments.
The memo was prepared by Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security. It is unclear if Esper had seen the memo, and the document hasn’t been officially released.
“All indications suggest we will be operating in a globally-persistent COVID-19 environment in the months ahead,” the memo reads. “This will likely continue until there is wide-scale immunity, through immunization, and some immunity post-recovery from the virus.”
The memo’s publication comes when President Donald Trump is urging states to reopen during the pandemic.
According to The Associated Press, Republican political operatives are recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign organized by CNP Action, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Council for National Policy. A leaked recording of the hourlong call was provided to The Associated Press by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group.
CNP Action is part of the Save Our Country Coalition, an alliance of conservative think tanks and political committees formed in late April to end state lockdowns implemented in response to the pandemic. Other members of the coalition include the FreedomWorks Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Tea Party Patriots.
A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House Coronavirus Task Force led by Vice President Mike Pence.
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, confirmed to the AP that an effort to recruit doctors to publicly support the president is underway, but he declined to say when the initiative would be rolled out.
“Anybody who joins one of our coalitions is vetted,” Murtaugh said Monday. “And so quite obviously, all of our coalitions espouse policies and say things that are, of course, exactly simpatico with what the president believes. ... The president has been outspoken about the fact that he wants to get the country back open as soon as possible.”
On the May 11 call, Nancy Schulze, a GOP activist who is married to former Rep. Dick Schulze, R-Pennsylvania, said she had given the campaign a list of 27 doctors prepared to defend Trump’s reopening push.
“There is a coalition of doctors who are extremely pro-Trump that have been preparing and coming together for the war ahead in the campaign on health care,” Schulze said on the call. “And we have doctors that are ... in the trenches, that are saying ‘It’s time to reopen.’ ”
The idea quickly gained support from Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump campaign senior adviser who previously served two years as the president’s director of strategic communications.
“Those are the types of guys that we should want to get out on TV and radio to help push out the message,” Schlapp said on the call. “They’ve already been vetted. But they need to be put on the screens,” Schulze replied.
Schlapp’s husband agreed the president is getting criticized for not appearing to follow the advice of public health experts. Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference attended by conservative luminaries.
“The president’s going to get tagged by the fake news media as being irresponsible and not listening to doctors,” Matt Schlapp said on the call. “And so we have to gird his loins with a lot of other people. So I think what Nancy’s talking about ... this is the critical juncture that we highlight them.”
Matt Schlapp told the AP on Monday that he stood behind what he said on the leaked call.
“There is a big dynamic in the national media that will not give President Trump any credit,” he said. “It’s important to get the message out there that most people recover from corona. Most people are not in mortal danger with corona and that we can safely open up the economy.”
As several Republican governors moved last week to lift their state lockdowns, the National Ensemble Forecast used by the CDC to predict COVID-19 infections and deaths saw a corresponding increase. The CDC now forecasts the U.S. will exceed 100,000 deaths by June 1, a milestone that previously was not predicted to occur until late in the summer.
As of Tuesday, more than 1.5 million Americans had tested positive for COVID-19, with more than 91,000 deaths reported nationwide.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.