Hospital morgues at capacity amid COVID-19 surge, Orange County leaders say

County reports 19 additional deaths for August

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020 file photo, an orange biohazard tag hangs from a body bag in an isolated refrigerated unit set aside for bodies infected with coronavirus at the Cook County morgue in Chicago. The best sources of data on deaths from any cause is death certificates. But there time lags from when a death occurs, when a doctor or medical examiner assigns a cause, and when death certificates are filed, sent to health officials, and checked and counted. In a minority of cases, autopsies are performed, which can cause even more of a delay. So generally speaking, the most complete death counts are about two weeks old. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Charles Rex Arbogast, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Morgues at some Orange County hospitals have hit capacity amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, county leaders said during a news conference on Thursday.

“We were made aware that some of our hospitals are at capacity,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. “We are working to try to understand how we may be able to offer some relief in that regard, it is undefined at this time.”

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This news comes after a News 6 Investigation recently found that many area crematoriums have also hit their capacity for storing bodies. Orange County leaders did not pinpoint deaths from COVID-19 as the cause for the increased body count; however, the owners of crematoriums that News 6 spoke with did.

“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,” Pam Springer, the owner of West Side Crematory said.

Demings said the county may have to reach out to Tallahassee to get help dealing with the surplus of bodies.

“It may require a request to the state for additional refrigeration portable units to be deployed,” he said. “We’re just doing an assessment, at this point, to determine how critical that is so we don’t have the final answer today but we’re working through it.”

News 6 reached out to the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office about whether it was also experiencing storage issues. The office released the following statement:

“At this time we are not nearing full capacity; however, we are experiencing an increase too. For this reason, we have put in place some of our contingency plans, which allowed us to expand our storage capacity by using body storage shelving racks to complement our traditional wheeled carts that decedents are currently stored on inside our walk-in decedent coolers.”

Despite not blaming COVID-19 for the issues hospitals are facing, Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County did say that there has been a rise in the number of deaths from the disease.

The doctor reported 19 additional deaths, all of which happened with the month of August. Of those who died, Pino said 14 had underlying health conditions. He added that it was unclear whether the other five also had other health issues.

“Five of the 19 were fully vaccinated. And those were over 70 years of age and all of them had underlying conditions,” Pino said.

He later added, “The reality is that vaccines are not and will never be 100% effective, there is no vaccine out there that is 100% effective and the fact that individuals are of age and (have) preexisting condition(s) do place (them) at a higher risk.”

The doctor encouraged people who are eligible for a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to get that booster.

Pino said that the rise in deaths was expected following the surge in COVID-19 infections the county has seen over the last three weeks. However, he did note some positive news about the rate of new infections.

“The 14-day rolling (positivity rate) is 19.2% that’s a little bit of a decline. The highest we have been at was 20.5%,” he said.

On Monday, the county had said that children ages 5 to 14 made up the largest percentage of new COVID-19 infections. Pino said that remains the same with that age group contributing about 20% of all new cases.


About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.