COVID Morgue Trucks Are Back

The refrigerated trailers meant to store an excess of dead bodies are once again set to be used in some states.
August 17, 2021, 4:05pm
Workers move bodies to a refrigerated truck in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
Workers move bodies to a refrigerated truck in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

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The coronavirus’ grimmest harbinger has returned: morgue trucks.

The refrigerated trailers meant to store an excess of dead bodies are once again set to be used in some states, according to media reports, thanks to the rise in cases largely caused by the Delta variant infecting unvaccinated individuals. Officials in Texas—where state leadership has otherwise been embroiled in legal battles over mask mandates—have put in a request to the feds for five mortuary trailers as a precautionary measure, officials told NBC News. And a local hospital in Florida recently set up a morgue truck too.

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Though there haven’t been local requests for the trucks yet in Texas, officials wanted to be ready, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services told NBC News. The state requested the trucks on Aug. 4 after a review of coronavirus death data.

“Deaths are starting to mount, for sure,” Bruce Davidson, a spokesperson for San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, whose city will host the trucks, told NBC News.

Nearly 12,000 people are hospitalized with the virus in Texas, state data show, while approximately 66 percent of the population is vaccinated

Fewer than 330 ICU beds are currently available in the state of 29 million residents, according to Texas health data. Over the weekend, several regions of Texas were out of ICU beds entirely, according to WFAA, an ABC affiliate in Dallas.  

"We are anticipating a need within the state of Texas for these trailers as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to increase," Department of State Health Services spokesperson Doug Loveday told NBC News. 

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In Florida, Baptist Health also rolled out a mobile morgue at its Jacksonville campus just in case, according to First Coast News—though the health system warned that wasn’t necessarily a reason to worry.

“Proactive planning and preparing should neither cause alarm nor speculation,” Baptist Health told First Coast News. “Access to appropriate equipment, supplies, and materials is critical as we go through the current COVID surge and hurricane season."

Still, Floridians aren’t exactly out of the woods. The state’s seven-day case average is at 21,614, according to the Miami Herald—up dramatically from 6,510 just one month ago. 

The state currently accounts for 19.1 percent of all U.S. COVID hospitalizations, according to the Herald. 

Florida was also among the five states this weekend that broke records for the average number of new COVID cases per day, according to an analysis by CNBC. Still, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is warring with school officials over mask mandates, even though thousands of students are currently quarantined in just one school district there