Unused mobile morgues still on standby in Travis County

Coronavirus

Vehicles line up as a healthcare worker helps to check in as citizens is being tested at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing center at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday, November 22, 2020.(David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Travis County’s two temporary mobile morgues, which the county obtained in July to provide additional cold storage for bodies, have not been used, yet. The county plans to keep them on standby as cases of coronavirus surge both locally and statewide, according to a county spokesperson.

The mobile morgues are refrigerated trailers. One is located at the Travis County Cemetery and the second is kept at a private facility, said Travis County spokesperson Hector Nieto.

The trailers have been obtained “in case local funeral homes or mortuaries became overwhelmed in their capacity,” said Nieto.

The county neared capacity over the summer and it is happening again now during a spike in coronavirus cases, Nieto said.

Coronavirus cases surging again

Texas is averaging a record 281 coronavirus deaths per day, according to state health records from Monday. Over the past week, the state has seen an average of 18,305 new confirmed cases per day.

On Tuesday, Austin City Council member Greg Casar reported models were estimating local hospital ICU capacity could be surpassed in two days.

Travis County has had nearly 57,000 total cases, with 5,795 active cases and 573 deaths, according to county records.

Trailers on standby

Nieto said there is no timeframe for how long Travis County will keep the trailers.

“We will have them until they believe they are no longer necessary,” Nieto said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided one of the trailers at no cost to the county. The second trailer has been leased for $8,000 per month since July. The second trailer’s cost in 2020 – July through December, or $48,000 – was covered by funds from the federal CARES Act. Going forward in 2021, that trailer’s cost will be covered through the county’s general fund unless an alternate funding source is found, according to the county.

If a person dies in medical care, such as at a hospital, a doctor will provide a cause of death and that person will be taken directly to a funeral home or mortuary to be stored prior to burial, Nieto said. If a person dies outside medical care, for example at home, the medical examiner would be involved to determine the cause of death and the body would initially be stored at the medical examiner’s office then later taken to a funeral home or mortuary to be stored, he said.

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