Philadelphia – Deaths multiply and more and more bodies await burial in congested morgues after having died of coronavirus (COVID-19). The cities of the United States try to satisfy the demand while the families struggle with the rules of social distancing that prevent them from carrying out the usual funeral rites.
Med Alliance Group, a medical distributor in Illinois, is plagued by calls and emails across the country. They all ask for the same thing: refrigerated trucks to handle a situation like they could never imagine.
“They come from everywhere: hospitals, health services, forensic offices, Veterans Administration facilities, state health departments and funeral homes,” said Christie Penzol, spokeswoman for the Med Alliance. “It is heartbreaking.”
The company said it has leased all of its trucks and that there is an 18-week wait to receive materials and build new trailers, he added.
Now that experts and even President Donald Trump estimate that the number of victims of the pandemic would reach 240,000, one of the purely practical aspects of death – where to deposit the bodies – distresses everyone, at a time when cities, hospitals and Private healthcare organizations clamor for additional space.
To make matters worse, private spaces are occupied for longer than usual because burials, regardless of the cause of death, are hampered by the rules of social distancing.
The crisis repeats throughout the world
In Spain, where the death toll almost reaches 12,000, an ice skating rink in Madrid was turned into a makeshift morgue after the municipal funeral said it could not receive more bodies if protective equipment was not sent to it. In Italy, embalmed bodies placed in coffins await burial or cremation in church buildings and warehouses.
In Guayaquil, Ecuador, macabre images posted by families on social media show corpses wrapped in plastic or cloth, some on the street, waiting to be taken away by overwhelmed morgue workers.
In New York City, the US epicenter for the pandemic, where the death toll was nearly 1,900 on Saturday, authorities deposited plastic-wrapped bodies in refrigerated trucks.
Cities and states that have not yet suffered the worst try to prepare, but few morgues in the country have a capacity for 200 to 300 corpses.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has asked the Defense Department for 100,000 body bags, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Andrews.
On a day-to-day basis, the system operates at full capacity in most jurisdictions, said Robert A. Jensen, co-owner of Kenyon International Emergency Services, a private Texas-based disaster management company.
“They were not created to handle large waves. They were created to handle daily numbers,” said Jensen, whose company has collaborated in handling high-death incidents from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Thai tsunami, all which required refrigerated trucks to deposit corpses.
Rosina Argondizzo, from Glenview, Illinois, was buried in March with five people present: a priest, her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. In a normal time, it would have been very different, said Peter Argondizzo, his son.
“We are Italians, a lot of people would have come … it would have been very big,” he said. They would have wanted to have a great meal in his honor, but they hope to do so later. “She would have wanted everyone to eat well.”