As COVID-19 deaths rise, morgues prepare to store bodies

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Not only those on the frontlines are preparing for the surge of patients. Morgues are partnering with hospitals to alleviate the burden as the death toll continues to rise.

The Marion County Coroner’s Office now has four refrigerated units sitting outside their office for those who die as a result of COVID-19. 

“Never in my experience have we had to have refrigerated trucks or any outside refrigeration units to store decedents due to any sort of epidemic,” said Marion County Chief Deputy Coroner, Alfarena McGinty.

This is the first pandemic in her 22-years of experience. McGinty says they’ve been preparing for something like this for years, and now it’s coming into play.

“What we have done is we are going to partner with the hospitals so if they do have cases where they don’t have enough room to store decedents we will be able to assist them with that,” said McGinty. 

Especially as the numbers continue to rise. Friday morning, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) released new numbers just shy of a thousand positive cases and two dozen deaths. 

“So hospitals are not typically built to be prepared for large numbers of death and storing those decedents according to Indiana law becomes a challenge when they have an overflow of people that die as a result of any fatality,” said McGinty. 

The four additional storage units arrived Thursday at the coroner’s office on McCarty Street. Each unit can only store up to four bodies, and they will only be activated when hospitals in Marion County no longer have room for decedents. 

There are also particular guidelines the morgue must follow when handling the bodies of one who died as a result of the virus.

“There are actually CDC guidelines on how to handle those types of deaths. Even after the death, we take the regular protection and precautions wearing our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment),” said McGinty. 

The coroner is also practicing social distancing within the office to prevent any workers from self-isolation or quarantine. 

“We are not in a position where we can shut down, we are still out there we are still working,” said McGinty. 

McGinty is still working to assist hospitals who are becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“We’re still right in the trenches of conducting death investigations in this crisis that we’re facing right now,” said McGinty. 

They say it’s scary not knowing what the surge numbers could look like but they’re in it for the long haul. They are also preparing just in case they need more than the four refrigerated units.

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