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COVID-19 surge forcing funeral homes to rely on mobile morgues as body count rises

Written by on September 7, 2021

ALBANY, Ga. – As the number of coronavirus cases rise across the country, states are working to prepare for another wave of the pandemic — and another wave of COVID-related deaths — and they are bringing in mobile morgues to help.  

When the pandemic first hit in 2019, hospitals were forced to bring in mobile morgues to help store bodies.  

Morgues have to be able to support COVID-related deaths and everything else including homicides and drug deaths. States including Alabama, Florida and North Carolina now have mobile morgues on standby. 

NEARLY ALL COVID-19 DEATHS IN US ARE NOW AMONG UNVACCINATED

Albany County, Georgia, coroner Michael Fowler says they are planning before another storm of the virus arrives.  

“It hit our community, I always say, like a wildfire. It just went through our community. You can get up on higher ground for a flood, get into shelter for a tornado but for a pandemic that you cannot see, it was different for the community,” Fowler said.  

Mobile morgue in 2020

Mobile morgue in 2020

Like many places across the country southeast Georgia became a hotspot and there wasn’t enough room for the influx of COVID-related deaths.  

“We were stacking bodies, I put it that way I hate to say it – but we had nowhere to put them. That’s why we had to get the mobile morgue because we don’t want to stack bodies,” Fowler said 

NEARLY ALL COVID-19 DEATHS IN US ARE NOW AMONG UNVACCINATED

The coroner said bodies need to be stored because it takes time to test for the virus and find the cause of death. “Many time — especially if they died in the residence — you have to put them in a morgue until the department of public health can come by and do a test,” Fowler said.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and hospitalizations continue to rise.  

Eddie Cobb, owner of Promise Land Funeral home in southeast Georgia, is seeing more people die of COVID.  

“It’s very sad moment when someone passes from COVID. Someone dies basically from a handshake or entering a room with someone that possibly has COVID, that’s a very hard time,” Cobb said.  

Morgue with empty shelves

Morgue with empty shelves

However, to help combat the spread of the virus, Promise Land Funeral Home implemented a drive-thru funeral option, which was started by the previous owner, Howard Fields.

“When the COVID virus came it was almost like it was inspirational to make that because there are so many family members – that were afraid to even come into the funeral home that wanted to see their deceased loved ones,” Fields said.  

Fields said the funeral home is now more prepared for COVID-related funerals.  

“No one has to come inside the building. You can stay inside your vehicle and keep down the spread of COVID,” Cobb said.  

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Morgues in Mobile, Alabama, are filling up too. Funeral home director C.J. Smalls said the number of funerals have doubled there.  

“It’s really draining and even with the employees I’ve had several employees to quit because it was too much on them,” Smalls said.  

Fowler says they thought they were in the clear, but things are getting worse again.   

“We sent it away because things had died down some months, we had like five or maybe three deaths. Then when the delta virus came in things started picking back up, so we said we were going to go ahead and plan,” Fowler said.  

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