Mobile morgues are on the way to Wayne County in anticipation of coronavirus death surge


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers converted the TCF Center (formerly Cobo Center) in downtown Detroit into a 1,000-bed field hospital, which is expected to begin serving COVID-19 patients on Thursday. - COURTESY OF TCF CENTER
  • Courtesy of TCF Center
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers converted the TCF Center (formerly Cobo Center) in downtown Detroit into a 1,000-bed field hospital, which is expected to begin serving COVID-19 patients on Thursday.

Late last month, images of make-shift morgues lined up behind Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital began to surface on social media. Similar scenes began taking place in Brooklyn, including a now-viral video of body bags being loaded into a refrigerated truck with a forklift. Most recently, more than 45 “mobile morgues” were deployed to NYC-area hospitals as the growing number of coronavirus deaths tax the city's funeral homes and morgues. One hospital even ran out of body bags.

As of Tuesday, New York City has reported 3,544 coronavirus deaths while Detroit, a growing hotspot for the virus that has yet to reach its apex, recently saw the death toll nearly double — reaching 221 on Tuesday, making the city's death rate higher than NYC's.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office is taking note, preparing for a surge of COVID-19 deaths expected in Detroit in the coming weeks. It has reportedly deployed two refrigerated trucks, with more expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

“We've seen a steady uptick in the number of bodies in the morgue and it's only a matter of time, as the number of deaths increase, the morgue will reach its limits,” Wayne County spokesman Bill Nowling told The Detroit Free Press.

Each of the refrigerated trucks can hold between 35-40 bodies each, whereas the county morgue has a 300-body capacity, which it's quickly reaching with 200 bodies currently stored. Nowling says they're anticipating a need for more trucks, as hospital morgues are also overwhelmed and may start transferring some to the county's facilities.

Unnamed sources working in Detroit's hospitals also told the Free Press that trucks have already arrived, and are already being used to store bodies.

Funeral directors are among those allowed to remove bodies from morgues. Without that ability, director of Wayne State University's mortuary science program Mark Evely said bodies would pile up, posing a huge health risk. When handling remains, Evely says they are taking extra precautions by wearing personal protective equipment and making sure only necessary staff come into contact with the body.

On Monday, New York City's mayor Bill de Blasio revealed that the city is considering issuing temporary burials should the city's morgues become overloaded. Though it hasn't been confirmed as to where the burial sites would be, the mayor dismissed rumors that the city would bury the dead in NYC's parks.

“If we need to do temporary burials to be able to tide us over to pass the crisis, and then work with each family on their appropriate arrangements, we have the ability to do that,” the mayor said. “We may well be dealing with temporary burials so we can deal with each family later.”

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