Pentagon sees COVID-19 threat deep into 2021, memo suggests

Pentagon sees COVID-19 threat deep into 2021, memo suggests

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano at an earlier Pentagon briefing (DoD photo)

WASHINGTON — A leaked Pentagon memo outlines how top Defense Department officials have been planning for the possibility that the military could be dealing with a “globally-persistent” coronavirus pandemic well into 2021.

The memo, obtained by Task and Purpose, also warns of the “real possibility” that a vaccine for COVID-19 won’t be available until “at least the summer of 2021.”

“We have a long path ahead, with the real possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19,” the memo, leaked Tuesday, says. “Therefore, we must now refocus 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.”

The Pentagon is already reeling from the impact of COVID-19 on its readiness and its ability to recruit, train new recruits, rotate units, conduct exercises with allies, and perform missions needed to ensure prime performance and deterrence.

In some cases, such as sending ships out to sea for extended periods, the adjustments were able to be calculated and executed quickly. In more areas, however, the Pentagon is still grabbling with how to proceed.

Pentagon officials have previously stated they expect COVID-19 to have several surges, especially with infections in clusters in the fall, when flu season returns.

The memo was prepared by Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, and was crafted to refresh earlier guidance offered by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on April 1. It is not known if Esper has seen the memo.

During a White House event on Friday, Esper said, “We will deliver, by the end of this year a vaccine, at scale, to treat the American people and our partners abroad.” The Pentagon later clarified that Esper was merely announcing a set goal and was not promising a vaccine by the end of 2020.

Pentagon officials said they could not find a version of the memo as reported by Task & Purpose article and thus could not address it directly.  They did acknowledge their ongoing effort to create mechanisms “that address operating in the COVID-19 environment.”

As of Wednesday, the Pentagon reported 8,764 cases of COVID-19 among military, civilian, dependent, and contractors. There have been 359 hospitalized, 4,507 recovered, and 29 deaths.

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