CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County’s medical examiner is preparing a request for refrigerated trucks to accommodate a surge in coronavirus-related deaths, County Executive Armond Budish said Friday.
“This has been a part of our pandemic plan ... if we were to see a certain level of sustained deaths over the course of three days,” Budish said. “That would trigger this response. Of course, none of us wanted to see this happen. It is terrible.”
Dr. Thomas Gilson, the county's medical examiner, said the request was a proactive measure as the county has seen a sustained three-day increase in deaths - over 30 each day in the last week - and while they are not yet at capacity, they are preparing for a potential surge from the Thanksgiving holiday.
Gilson said that funeral homes "are reporting that they're busy, but not overwhelmed... and that the hospitals have also participated in that planning for storage. We just want to be ready. Because as the executive director said, we're not sure what the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday is going to be."
Earlier this week, Stark County also received a refrigerated trailer to store additional bodies after its morgue was filled to capacity over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Cuyahoga County is now on the watch list for Level 4, the highest in the state health department’s Public Health Advisory System, because it currently meets six of the seven indicators for high COVID-19 incidence and spread. The county has a COVID-19 testing positivity rate of 21.4% over the past week.
Cuyahoga County had the 20th highest occurrence of COVID-19 among Ohio’s counties for the period of Nov. 18 to Dec. 1, with 786.4 cases per 100,000 residents, and 9,712 new cases over that period.
Hospital Region 2, which includes Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties, is currently at 24.7% available capacity for hospital beds and 19.8% capacity for ICU beds, with 1,007 COVID-positive patients in hospitals and 253 COVID-positive patients in the ICU.
Budish said the county is in a “very dangerous time.”
“And the experts you see here do not see our numbers improving if we don't begin to really change our behaviors,” he said. “I know this is hard. We're in our holiday season. I hope that all of you had a very safe and healthy Thanksgiving. I know it was definitely not a normal holiday. We were asked to celebrate only with those in our own household in order to get COVID under control. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.”
He said that the explosion of virus numbers we’ve seen so far does not yet reflect Thanksgiving activities.
“We're not yet experiencing the rise of illness and deaths that will be coming from the other holiday parties or individuals who really don't like being told what to do,” Budish said. “Let's be blunt about it: doing what we want isn't necessarily doing what's right. We have to look beyond ourselves. And remember, we're all neighbors. We are all members of one family the human family.”
During the press conference, the depth of the crisis overwhelmed county Deputy Director of Prevention and Wellness Romona Brazile.