Workers construct what is believed to be a makeshift morgue behind a hospital during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York, March 25, 2020.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
New York, Hawaii and North Carolina have requested emergency mortuary assistance from FEMA to handle the coming deaths expected from coronavirus as the pandemic bears down on the United States.
A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed the requests in a statement on Wednesday. The requests are currently under review and have not yet been approved, the spokesperson said.
The requests are for HHS Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams, or DMORT, which “work to quickly and accurately identify victims and support local mortuary services,” according to a government website.
On Thursday, after this story was originally published, FEMA spokesperson Alex Bruner said in an email that North Carolina asked for “asked for one disaster mortuary liaison, not an entire team.”
Global deaths from COVID-19 have surged past 20,000, with the worst outbreaks continuing to shift west from China through Europe and soon expected in the U.S. There have been at least 809 deaths from the disease in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In the U.S., the death toll has been largely concentrated in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned of a looming shortage of ventilators and hospital beds. There are at least 17,856 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City, with almost 200 dead so far, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Hawaii and North Carolina have suffered few deaths from COVID-19 to date. After announcing its first death from the disease, Hawaii’s Department of Health backtracked on Tuesday and said the test results had been misread and the person did not die of coronavirus, according to HawaiiNewsNow. Health authorities in North Carolina reported the first deaths from coronavirus in the state on Wednesday.
Politico reported Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security had been briefed that New York City’s morgues were nearing capacity, citing a DHS official and another source familiar with the matter. The New York Post reported on Tuesday that a makeshift morgue was being set up at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, citing a source who was familiar with the operation.
Some countries in Europe have already had to create improvised morgues. Authorities in Spain have turned to an Olympic-sized ice rink in the nation’s capital of Madrid, according to Reuters.