Is there enough room in morgues for COVID-19 deaths, other illness deaths?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hospital morgues are looking at capacity levels as more people die from the coronavirus and other illnesses.

More than 17,000 people across Shelby County have been infected with COVID-19. Hospitals are overwhelmed and deaths continue to climb.

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“There have been a number of inquiries over the last month or two from hospitals regarding what they should do and what our role would be if they have capacity issues,” said Benjamin Figura, Forensic Anthropologist at the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center.

So far, more than 250 people have died from COVID.

Of those deaths, 87 were reported in the last month.

“Our role is much different than a hospital, so our capacity is much larger,” Figura said. “So, they naturally look to us for assistance.”

Looking ahead, the Shelby County Health Department has teamed up with the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center to offer additional morgue space.

“We have refrigerated trailers that were provided by the state to the county that will be placed at our facility,” Figura said.

Figura said these trailers can hold up 80 to 100 additional bodies.

“This is not so much to handle COVID-19 deaths, it’s to handle capacity issues these hospitals may run into,” Figura said. “This is just as a precaution. We have had some inquiries, but to our knowledge, there have not been any dire need at this moment. Hospitals are just preparing for the worst-case scenario.”