Refrigerated trucks are en route to Texas and Arizona as morgues struggle to deal with the rising number of deaths resulting from the surge in coronavirus cases in the two states.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, told reporters that at least one morgue in Maricopa County, home to nearly 60% of the state's population, was "near capacity." A morgue run by the city's Abrazo Health system was also at 97% capacity, she said.
"We are losing too many Arizonans," Gallego told local news outlet KNXV. "I'm heartbroken . . . It's been a rough week for me."
A spokesperson for Abrazo said in a statement that the area's hospitals still "have adequate morgue space," but the trucks were requested as part of an emergency plan "to handle overflow morgue capacity, if needed."
Gallego claimed that the city has been plagued by inaction from the federal government and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
She told KNXV that "White House officials have said everything is under control, and that she has been asking for too much support."
Gallego has repeatedly called for Ducey to implement a statewide mask requirement, but Ducey has done little in response to the rise even as Arizona sees the highest rate of infection of any state. Ducey has rejected calls for a mask requirement and announced that restaurants would have to limit indoor dining to 50%, even though his earlier executive order already included that guidance.
Maricopa County alone has more than 75,000 cases. Hospitals in the state are around 90% capacity.
Gallego is hardly alone in her criticism of Ducey. The mayors of Tucson, Tolleson, Tempe and Flagstaff joined her in calling on Ducey to "do more to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Arizona," the local outlet AZ Family reported.
The family of a man who died last month from coronavirus symptoms blamed both Ducey and President Donald Trump for the death in a scathing obituary in the Arizona Republic.
"His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk," Kristin Urquiza said of her father Mark Urquiza's passing, adding that Ducey had "blood on his hands."
In Texas, where the virus has killed more people than the 9/11 attacks, some counties have already had to rely on refrigerated trucks. The Nueces County morgue, which includes Corpus Christi, was already full and requested a refrigerated truck that "can accommodate up to 40 more bodies," The Texas Tribune reported.
At least 29 people died in the county from the coronavirus between last Monday and Friday, 70% of all 42 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We have seen very few deaths for the first few months of the pandemic, so the FEMA trailer was placed in another city," county medical examiner Dr. Adel Shaker told the outlet. "But the need is here now."
Austin was also "in the process of procuring a refrigerated truck to face the surge in COVID-19 deaths," a county spokesperson said.
Cameron and Hidalgo Counties have also brought in a refrigerated truck while Houston was using a refrigerated trailer as "temporary storage before the transfer from the hospital to funeral homes," The Tribune reported.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced Monday that refrigerated trucks were on standby if needed, KSAT reported.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who pushed for an early reopening and at one point banned cities from requiring masks, has ordered bars to close again and required restaurants to reduce indoor dining capacity to 50% and later issued his own statewide mask requirement.
"Things will get worse, and let me explain why: The deaths that we're seeing announced today and yesterday — which are now over 100 — those are people who likely contracted COVID-19 in late May," Abbott told local news outlet KLBK. "The worst is yet to come as we work our way through that massive increase in people testing positive."
Abbott pleaded for residents to wear masks or face another shutdown.
"The public needs to understand this was a very tough decision for me to make," he said of the mask mandate. "I made clear that I made this tough decision for one reason: It was our last best effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. If we do not slow the spread of COVID-19 . . . the next step would have to be a lockdown."
Similar trucks were also used in New York City as the Empire State grappled with the outbreak. The New York Times wrote in May that "the pandemic has now left nearly 30,000 dead in New York — and about 205 of the vehicles, sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or purchased by the medical examiner's office, are stationed across the city."