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Coroners using mobile morgues to prepare for COVID-19 deaths

An expected surge in coronavirus deaths has coroners across the Carolinas rolling out mobile morgues to be prepared.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A surge in coronavirus-related deaths is expected to hit the nation by Easter Sunday, leading many hotspot states like New York to create makeshift morgues. 

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2,212 are expected to have died by then from COVID-19.

In the Carolinas, recent data shows social distancing may be working and the projected death toll is not nearly as bad as larger cities. IHME projects both North and South Carolina’s peak in COVID-19 related deaths to happen by August.

With a total of 522 deaths in North Carolina and 470 in South Carolina. Still, coroners say they are preparing for the worst.

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Sabrina Gast, the Coroner for York County and President of South Carolina’s Coroner’s Association, says coroners are getting support from the state to handle mass casualties during the crisis. 

“We get money from DHEC to do mass fatality training and preparation,” said Gast.

If a peak in deaths should occur, Gast says the association has mobile morgues on standby in case county morgues run out of space.

“They are for bodies,” said Gast. “They are refrigerated trailers, like if you think of an 18-wheeler that has be to pulled with a semi truck. We have predesignated areas for those trailers to be situated.”

Gast says coroners, just like healthcare workers, are running into a shortage of personal protective equipment and are constantly finding ways to lower the risks of exposure to employees who work with anyone who dies during the pandemic, including testing anyone who dies during the pandemic for COVID-19.

“We are holding patients under investigation until we get those test results back as an added layer of protection for our funeral homes,” said Gast.

Wake Up Charlotte’s Billie Jean Shaw has contacted the Medical Examiner’s in Raleigh for information the agency’s plan to handle a peak in COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina. WCNC Charlotte is still awaiting response.