COVID-19 deaths overwhelm Cowlitz County morgue

The Associated Press

LONGVIEW — 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.

The Daily News reported Cowlitz County Health and Human Services data for the past week is incomplete, but at least eight county residents died due to COVID-19 between Aug. 31 and Sept. 6.

The residents were between their 40s and 90s, and seven of the residents had been hospitalized.

Coroner Tim Davidson said the morgue and the county’s funeral homes are maxed out on capacity and are “being creative” to maintain cold storage. All together, the facilities can typically hold 45 bodies and right now have about 65, he said.

“We’re just doing our best that we can to preserve the dignity of the deceased from this point forward until they can be processed for their families,” Davidson said.

The morgue can hold 10 bodies, but is currently “way above that,” using gurney tables in the cooling rooms to handle the increase, Davidson said. The new morgue that’s under construction will be able to hold 50 in cold storage, he said. Staff is set to move into the new building around Oct. 4, he said.

Last month at least two counties in Oregon also requested refrigerated trucks to hold bodies because of the rapidly increasing COVID-19 death rate.

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