The Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says the state has sufficient morgue capacity to deal with an increase in Covid-19 deaths, but the office is creating a backup facility at Fitchburg State's Landry Arena just in case.
According to the OCME, special refrigeration trucks will be set up at Landry Arena to serve as temporary morgues, if needed.
Jake Wark, spokesperson for the examiner's office, said that the state should have sufficient capacity, and this is just a contingency measure.
"The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner continues to support DPH, funeral directors, and other stakeholders to assist in the smooth operation of the Commonwealth’s mortuary services and to ensure that final disposition remains safe, timely, and respectful," Wark said in a statement.
The ME's office says they handle about 60,000 deaths in an average year, and Landry Arena would only be used if current morgue capacity is overwhelmed.
Wark says the mortuary trucks would adhere to strict safety guidelines and would pose no health risk to the community.
Temporary morgues are recommended in CDC guidance and are being utilized in New York, London, and other locations as a public health strategy to maintain sanitary conditions at hospitals and other facilities.
In addition, the state is easing regulations around funerals as the death toll from COVID-19 climbs.
Robert Graham, who runs Graham Funeral home in East Hampton, Massachusetts, says due to the high volume of deaths expected, the state's medical examiner’s office is allowing cremations to be expedited.
“They waived the 48-hour waiting period,” Graham said, “once we have all the documentation to the ME's office for cremation, we can proceed with the cremation without waiting the 48 hours.”
Graham says one concern facing funeral directors is medical privacy laws such as HIPAA, which prevent disclosure of whether the deceased had COVID-19, but funeral home staff are taking extra protective measures regardless.
The ME's office says the arena would serve as a bridge between health care facilities and funeral homes, and that decedents will be treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect.