Just how busy is the Cook County morgue during COVID-19?

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CHICAGO — When Illinois caught wind that the virus from Wuhan was making its way to the Midwest, authorities went into action.

The first effort was to save lives. Another was to deliver dignity to the dead.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office doing its part by learning from the past and opening up a surge center to ease overcrowding.

Natalia Derevyanny, explains how history in Chicago will not repeat itself. In 1995 when a heat wave resulted in over 700 deaths in a matter of days, the county morgue was overwhelmed.

With all eyes on Wuhan for the past several months, severe illness and a potentially staggering death toll was sadly inevitable in the United States. So the county took over a refrigerated warehouse on the city’s West Side to be prepared for the worst. They call it a surge center.

A total of 198 bodies have been transported to the surge center because of COVID-19. Right now, just over 100 bodies remain there. And almost 100 bodies have already been picked up by funeral homes for families who have made arrangements.

The refrigerated space can actually hold 2,000 bodies if necessary.

To tell you just how busy the county morgue is these days, from March through April in 2019, the medical examiner processed more than 500 cases. That same period in 2020, during COVID-19 there were 1,600 cases — more than three times as much.
This week, Weiss Hospital on the city’s North Side, is one of 23 hospitals taking advantage of the free transport service coordinated and paid for by the county to pick up patients who have died from COVID-19.
IDOT, Emergency Management and regional security as well as the south suburban public works do the pick-ups if a hospital needs to transport five or more bodies to the morgue. As of Wednesday, Weiss had 70 COVID-19 positive patients and had lost 36 people to the virus so far.

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