Lane County requests mobile morgue amid recent surge in deaths

The surge in deaths was partly driven by COVID-19, but also by traffic fatalities and overdose deaths, according to Lane County Public Health.

Posted: Sep 16, 2021 3:01 PM
Updated: Sep 16, 2021 7:03 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Lane County has requested a refrigerated trailer to store bodies following a recent surge in deaths, health officials say.

The surge in deaths was partly driven by COVID-19 but also by traffic fatalities and overdose deaths, according to Lane County Public Health.

Lane County currently has the capacity to store 175 bodies, according to the county. The additional refrigerated trailer would add space for 60 more bodies, increasing the total capacity to 235.

The demand is now slowing down, but the county's health department said it wants to be prepared in case they begin to rise again.

Having a refrigerated trailer will reduce logistical challenges that occur when mortuaries fill up, Lane County Public Health said. Some of those challenges include the price of shipping bodies to farther locations and trauma loved ones may face through the delay of the deceased being properly laid to rest.

RELATED: 2 OREGON COUNTIES ASK FOR REFRIGERATED TRUCKS TO HOLD COVID-19 FATALITIES

The county is averaging about two to six coronavirus-related deaths every day, health officials said. There have been 68 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 30 days.

But health officials say this is not a new problem. The number of annual deaths in Lane County has been rising steadily over the past decade.

"They say that you go through a growth of death in a community about every 10 years too and that really doesn't have anything to do with, like you say, the pandemic," said Karen Burns, one of the owners of Burns's Riverside Chapel Funeral Home in Florence.

They have space to store up to 16 bodies, Burns said. She said she's seen more coronavirus-related deaths in August than she saw throughout the entirety of 2020.

"In my career, I've never seen any type of refrigeration trucks ever brought into the state of Oregon that I've ever been aware of," Burns said.

The county said it's trying to buy a trailer to keep even after the pandemic ends. The trailers cost between $5,000 and $100,000, according to Lane County Public Health. The price will likely be driven up due to supply shortages caused by the pandemic.

The Oregon Health Authority said the request for the trailer is still being processed and it didn't have a timeline for its arrival.

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