COVID-19 deaths overwhelm morgue in Cowlitz County


LONGVIEW, Wash. (KOIN) — A recent increase in COVID-19 deaths has overwhelmed a southwest Washington county’s storage capacity, prompting the coroner to ask the commissioners to declare an emergency to allow the county to bring in a refrigeration trailer.

Cowlitz County commissioners agreed Tuesday to the request to help expand capacity until the new morgue is ready for staff to move into in about a month. Cowlitz County Coroner Dr. Timothy Davidson confirmed to KOIN 6 News at least eight county residents died due to COVID-19 between Aug. 31 and Sept. 6.

Davidson said the morgue and the county’s funeral homes are maxed out on capacity. Altogether, the facilities can typically hold 45 bodies and right now have about 65.

Davidson said he and other staff members have been working around the clock to find places for the deceased to go, but there are limited options.

“We only have six funeral homes per se, only four of them have refrigerated storage for decedents,” he said. “All I need is a basic refrigerated unit that we can plugin and run.”

Deputy Health Officer Dr. Steven Krager said they’re averaging 90 to 100 COVID cases per day.

“That’s translating now into about 10 people being hospitalized each day in Cowlitz County and about 1% dying every day on average,” Krager said.

Krager said 52% of the county’s population have received one dose of a COVID vaccine and 47% are fully vaccinated. He said those numbers are low compared to the statewide number of 61% with one dose and about 55% completing a vaccine series.

“We are fighting against a lot of misinformation and our voice is unfortunately not as loud as we would like compared to some of those other voices. So you know, we are fighting against people scrolling through Facebook and Instagram and getting fed a lot of that misinformation,” Krager said.

Krager said the number of people getting vaccinated daily has been slowly increasing.

“I hope this is a little bit of a wake-up call for people, I don’t know how much more visual you can get than our morgue being filled up with people and us having to get a refrigerated truck. What we are seeing is the reality on the ground. People are dying from COVID-19 and they don’t have to,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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