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Bagged bodies at a Detroit hospital overwhelmed by coronavirus cases were stored propped up in an armchair, and piled side by side in refrigerated units, newly released photos show.
The harrowing photos, published by CNN Monday, highlight the desperate conditions at Detroit’s Sinai-Grace Hospital as it was hit with a surge of coronavirus patients earlier this month. Sinai-Grace is the only hospital in northwest Detroit, one of the U.S.’s hardest hit cities, and is surrounded by about 14 nursing homes.
One of the photos, which CNN obtained from concerned emergency room workers, showed two dead patients in white body bags lying side-by-side in a room normally used for sleep studies, with a third body bag propped up in an armchair alongside the bed.
Emergency room workers, speaking anonymously because they fear losing their jobs, told CNN the room was used to store the bodies because the morgue was full and morgue staff did not work at night.
A second photo appeared to show more than a dozen bagged bodies in a refrigerated storage unit, some of them lying together on the floor, and with blue bags containing their personal effects laid on the bags.
The emergency room workers told CNN that the hospital had ordered mobile refrigeration units, currently parked in the hospital parking lot, after the incident that led to the bodies being stored in the sleep study room.
Brian Taylor, a spokesman for the Detroit Medical Center, said in a statement that the high mortality rates in Detroit had led to capacity issues at funeral homes and morgues outside the hospital. “Patients who pass away at our hospital are treated with respect and dignity, remaining on-site until they can be appropriately released,” he said.
“Like hospitals in New York and elsewhere, we have secured additional resources such as mobile refrigeration units to help temporarily manage the capacity issue caused by COVID-19.”
CNN did not specify exactly when the pictures were taken, other than it was earlier this month, at a period when the hospital was treating between 100 to 130 coronavirus patients daily. Emergency room workers told the network that the number of coronavirus patients had dropped to a more manageable number of about 50 a day in recent days.
Last week, staff at the hospital spoke out about the dire conditions they were facing, telling reporters that patients were dying in hallways and that staff were scrambling to find places to store the dead.
The Detroit News reported last week that officials had had a call with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention due to concerns that Sinai-Grace had the highest coronavirus mortality rates among hospitals in the country. According to the report, senior hospital officials attributed the high mortality rate to the presence of more than a dozen nursing homes near the hospital, and a patient population with high rates of underlying health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Michigan has the third-highest number of coronavirus deaths of any U.S. state, with more than 1,600 deaths as of Monday. Due to its low rate of testing per capita, it has the highest death rate in the country in terms of deaths measured against confirmed cases. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday that while the rate of new infections was starting to slow, lifting a stay-at-home order too soon could be disastrous.
Cover: Twitter/Marshall Cohen