Orange County crematoriums at capacity, owners blame COVID

‘We’re in a business where we’re not accustomed to turning people away,’ crematorium owner says

ORLANDO, Fla. – A News 6 investigation found so many people are dying from COVID-19, a local crematorium says it is running out of space to store bodies.

It is a harsh reality of the potentially deadly virus.

Deaths from COVID-19 started to increase again in mid-July and continue increasing through August, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. In the week of Aug. 12 alone there were 1,071 deaths reported statewide.

The people News 6 spoke with said they are working around the clock, but people are dying at a faster rate than their companies can keep up with.

[TRENDING: Can you mix-and-match COVID-19 shots? | What the heat index is and why it matters | Heat is on: Money-saving tips]

Mitchell’s Funeral Home has been a staple in Orlando for 50 years. Last year the owner, Kenneth Mitchell Sr. died of COVID-19. Since then his daughter, Kimberly Mitchell, took over the family business and has seen no shortage of COVID deaths.

“COVID has never gone away,” Mitchell said. “As you can see the hospitals are starting to run out of room. Refrigeration for people who have passed, they’re running out of room.”

Mitchell’s Funeral Home has its own refrigeration to preserve bodies, but many funeral homes, like Postell’s Mortuary, do not and they depend on crematoriums for storage.

Henry Postell has been in business in Orange County for more than 30 years. Typically, he said they handle between 200 and 225 bodies per year. This year, they are already at more than 240 and it’s still August.

“On Monday, we were notified that our facilities that we use to store remains, they’re full, at capacity because of the number of deaths in Orange County,” Postell said.

News 6 asked if his company has ever been in this situation in their 30-year history in the business.

“No, we have not,” Postell said.

Pam Springer is the owner of West Side Crematory.

Her business is not open to the public, but many funeral homes — like Postell’s — depend on them to store human remains. Remains have to be stored at a certain temperature which requires refrigeration.

“An overload and exhaustion is what we’re experiencing,” Springer said. “We are so beyond capacity and we just don’t know what to do.”

“We’re at a capacity that we’ve never been at before and there’s no solution,” she added. “We just don’t know where you can get space when you don’t have space.”

There is no question the increase is related to COVID, according to Springer.

“We don’t get the specifics of why someone has passed, but the (body) bags, we have a code that is on them and we know those are COVID,” Springer said.

News 6 contacted another large crematorium in Orange County and confirmed they are in the same situation.

Springer said her company needs help.

“We would like some kind of help from the state,” she said. “The government, somebody, to store the bodies. The hospitals are overloaded. The funeral homes can only hold so many. They’re at capacity as well and we’re in a business where we’re not accustomed to turning people away.”

Springer said she has considered refrigeration trucks, but they are expensive to rent.

Postell said he is a member of the Independent Funeral Directors of Florida Association. He said the association is reaching out to the state for help.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.