Two large refrigerated trucks parked outside the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office will be used to store bodies in a surge of deaths related to COVID-19, the medical examiner said Wednesday.
Video captured by Texas Sky Ranger showed the trailers parked along St. Louis Street next to the office. A temporary wooden structure was built around the trailers, which were covered by a roof.
The current storage capacity inside the medical examiner's office is 100 bodies, and the number is currently at 85 or 90, said longtime Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani.
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"We don't want to be caught flat-footed," Peerwani said. "The funeral homes are getting full and there's a backlog there."
Peerwani expects the trucks to be used within days.
He said the two trailers would hold an additional 50 bodies each, doubling the office's capacity.
"I've been doing this for 45 years. I've never seen anything like this," Peerwani said.
Adding to the numbers, some of the bodies are homicide victims. Murders in Fort Worth are at a 25-year high. Other people are dying at home unattended because family members aren't checking on them as often due to COVID-19, he said.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley told NBC 5 that plans have been in the works for months at the medical examiner's office and the time has finally come for their necessity.
"We've had a pretty significant increase in murders, suicides and drug overdoses," Whitley said. "There's been a lot of that going on throughout Tarrant County."
Other cities like El Paso have used refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies of COVID victims. Whitley said COVID-19 has played a role in increasing demand for morgue space, but funeral homes are also feeling the strain.
"In addition to funerals, a lot of folks want to wait until they can have family and more of the folks who want to come in for the service. So all of this has resulted in kind of a backup," Whitley said. "Our morgue, our medical examiner folks, have been talking for some time and knew that we may get to this point, and we're there."
Another 1,536 people tested positive in the county.
Medstar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said the ambulance service responded to 131 COVID-related calls on Tuesday, a new record. The average had been about 85 until just last week, he added.
“This is dangerous,” he said.
Zavadsky, who had previously called the spike in calls a “tsunami,” described the situation as a “perfect storm” on Wednesday.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.