Spain’s mortuary workers endure the daily march of death

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Wearing protective suits to prevent infection, mortuary workers prepare the body of an elderly person who died of COVID-19 before removing it from a nursing home in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. After successfully bringing the daily death count down from over 900 in March to single digits by July, Spain has seen a steady uptick that brought deaths back to over 200 a day this month. With that relapse, the body collectors have returned to making the rounds of hospitals, homes and care facilities. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

BARCELONA – When Marina Gómez and her fellow mortuary worker enter a room at a nursing home to remove the body of a COVID-19 victim, they work methodically and in silence.

They disinfect the mouth, nose and eyes to reduce the risk of contamination. They wrap the body in the bed sheets. Two white body bags are used, one inside the other, and the zippers are closed in the opposite direction: the first bag is sealed head to foot; the second, foot to head.

The only sound in the room is from the whisper of the zippers, sealing the dead from view for the last time.

Gómez and her colleagues work for Mémora, the leading funeral service provider in Barcelona with homes throughout Spain and Portugal. They are part of a group of essential workers. Like nurses and doctors, they have seen and touched the march of death from the virus that has already killed some 1.4 million people around the world.

When arriving at a nursing home or rehabilitation center, Gómez and her partner Manel Rivera encourage caregivers to move a surviving roommate from the room while they collect the body.

Many times, however, only a white curtain separates the living from the dead, and that harsh reality and lack of decency bothers Gómez.

“Just the simple fact of going to pick up a body and seeing there is another person, alive, next to them (in the room), that is what most gets to me,” she told The Associated Press.

In the first months of the pandemic last spring, Gómez said their requests to move a surviving patient out of the room were honored more often. A sort of wartime atmosphere had brought people together in solidarity amid the misery.