CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois county that includes Chicago is setting up new places to store bodies in preparation for a likely surge in the number of coronavirus deaths that could overwhelm hospital morgues.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office said in a news release Thursday that a 66,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse located 5 miles from the medical examiner’s office would be up and running by the end of the day. The facility, according to the release, will be able to hold more than 2,000 bodies.
The county’s Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security has also acquired 14 refrigerator trailers and is in the process of securing six more. Another trailer has already been set up outside the medical examiner’s office. It’s a grim reminder of the trailers that were hastily set up to handle the overflow of bodies of people who died in the 1995 heat wave that claimed more than 700 lives.
“While my hope is that we have made plans that we will not have to utilize, I realize that my administration has the responsibility for a surge of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Preckwinkle said in the release. “We are working diligently to ensure that the victims of this virus are treated with dignity while under our care.”
The warehouse and the trailers come at a time when the medical examiner’s office is closing in on the maximum number of bodies it can store. County spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny said the office has enough space to store 285 bodies and at last count there were 246 bodies stored there. She said there are already two trailers at the facility, each of which can hold 30 bodies.
She also said that the other trailers will be placed in parts of the county where there are anticipated surges and they will be moved to be placed wherever officials see there are hot spots.
Further, she said the facility opening on Thursday will streamline the process of storing bodies. “This is for all the hospitals so they (bodies) can be taken directly” to that facility, instead of being first brought to the medical examiner’s office, she said.
Derevyanny did not know the size of morgues for area hospitals but said they are quite small, with space for only a few bodies each.
Meanwhile, Chicago, which has long been plagued by gun violence, has in recent days been hit by a rash of shootings that is taxing the medical examiner’s office at a time when it is dealing with more and more coronavirus deaths.
According to Chicago police, there were between Sunday and early yesterday 13 homicides, a spate of shootings that prompted angry words from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“In the middle of this worldwide pandemic, our precious health resources need to be treating COVID-19 patients and those needing acute care... Lightfoot said at a Wednesday news briefing. “To be blunt, if our ICUs are filled with gunshot victims, our ability to respond to this … crisis will necessarily be compromised.”
Lightfoot urged people to help investigators, despite a history of distrust residents of some neighborhoods have with police that has made them reluctant to come forward with information.
“This is especially urgent now as our ability to treat all Chicagoans is being stretched to the breaking point,“she said. “We cannot allow this to happen. People know who the shooters are. You know who you are. These cowards cannot be given any shelter,” Lightfoot said.