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Senior military leaders warn coronavirus threat is 'not going away' as they brace for a second wave

Washington(CNN) Two of the US military's most senior leaders issued a stark warning Thursday that the threat from the coronavirus is still high and stressed they are preparing for a possible second wave.

"That threat is not going away any time soon," Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, told a small group of reporters. "Nobody has a crystal ball."

That was underscored by General David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps. "Clearly we have learned a hell of a lot from the last three, four months that we are going to apply should that happen," Berger said. "We will be prepared for it."

Neither officer mentioned President Donald Trump. But their comments came as the President has been pushing states to reopen and on Wednesday said the government had done "amazingly well," despite the fact the US has the highest death toll in the world with more than 93,000 people losing their lives to the virus as of Thursday afternoon.

The military has already been impacted by the pandemic, with two major ships -- the USS Roosevelt and USS Kidd -- sidelined after outbreaks on board and major exercises canceled. But Gilday and Berger emphasized the Pentagon is adapting and implementing measures to mitigate any impact on military readiness.

They spoke two days after the military's most senior leadership, the Joint Chiefs, met with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, key members of the White House coronavirus task force. Berger said the possibility of a second wave was discussed and emphasized "there are too many unknowns from their perspective to accurately forecast." They were also told it's still not clear whether those who get the virus become immune to it after recovery.

While Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were publicly optimistic at a Rose Garden event last week that a vaccine would be ready by the turn of the year, Esper has been cautious about the future course of the virus. "We are preparing for a second wave and maybe more. We don't know what the trajectory of this virus will be," he said May 7 during a visit to the US Northern Command in Colorado, "We are preparing for the long haul."

Short of getting a vaccine being made ready quickly, the military is focused on being able to recruit new forces and field existing units with as much protection as possible.

"What we learned since mid-March is we need to be much more specific and to a certain degree much more standardized in terms of providing guidance to our fleet units," Gilday said.

Gilday also stressed that lessons had been learned from the outbreaks on the Roosevelt and Kidd and commanders have been told "these are the exact steps we want you to take in order to minimize risk on the prevention side and then if you do have an outbreak on the ship here are the step you need to take."

Both officers pointed out if there is a second wave, there is now more testing provisions available and troops are being prioritized based on factors such as if they are about to deploy. In addition, face masks have been provided and social distancing implemented across the military.

"We are just planning for the worst really," Gilday said. "We have to ready to continue to operate regardless of the level of Covid-19."

"The military is not a work from home force," Berger said. "You expect us to be out there and you expect us to figure out how to do that safely."