Shelby County Health Department brings in mobile morgues in case more space needed

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Officials say trailers are chilling reminder of COVID-19's effects

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As many of us prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, there is a a bleak reminder of how COVID-19 has already claimed more than 600 lives in Shelby County alone.

The Shelby County Health Department is making plans on what it will do in the event they do not have enough room in the county morgue.

“We actually had planned in the past to make sure we had mobile morgues available here in the event of an emergency,” said Alisa Haushalter, the director of the health department.

It is a sobering sign of the times. Two refrigerated trailers or mobile morgues were sent there to help prepare for another possible surge in coronavirus cases and more deaths.

“We entered into an agreement with the forensic center to be prepared for overflow of decedents in the event that happens,” Haushalter said.

The two refrigerated trailers were provided by the state of Tennessee and FEMA. They have the capacity of handling 96 bodies. As of Wednesday, there have been 645 deaths since the pandemic began.

“I extend my sympathies to anyone who’s lost a family or friend to COVID,” Haushalter said. “It’s very painful, and so our goal is to reduce that as much as we can by stopping the spread of COVID in Shelby County.”

At Baptist Hospital, Dr. Steve Threlkeld is an infectious disease specialist. He said people should have the uncomfortable conversations about this virus and how it is killing people.

“Talk about the elephant in the room, having large morgue freezers, coolers, that should be a sobering point for anyone watching,” Threlkeld said.

Threlkeld said our numbers and deaths are not like in other cities, but we have to be ready.

“It’s nice to be prepared for those types of things, but it’s very chilling. We could be looking at those kind of numbers,” Threlkeld said.

Threlkeld added, “I certainly hope not. But to ignore the possibility it could happen here is to ignore what’s happen other U.S. cities.”

It is why they are pleading with the public to do the right thing by masking up, social distancing, and attend smaller gatherings, so the mobile morgues would not have to be used.

“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse to be sure and we have to do everything we can to prevent the utilization of those devices and anything else that means we have failed in what we are doing,” Threlkeld said.

Haushalter echoed that and said the hope is that with all the appropriate action in place, they will not have to use that facility. She said their goal is never to use it.

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