Florida hospital leases refrigerated trailer to expand morgue capacity amid COVID spike

Coronavirus

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — The latest surge in COVID-19 cases continues to put stress on hospital systems across the state of Florida, and one hospital is taking an added precaution.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital has leased a trailer as a “precautionary measure” to expand its morgue capacity if necessary.

“The trailer is not in use at the moment, but is being prepared in case we see a surge in the coming days/weeks,” a hospital spokesperson told WFLA in an email.

As of Tuesday, one-third of the hospital’s patient census was COVID-positive. According to hospital officials, 278 patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and 52 of those patients are in intensive care.

Dr. Manuel Gordillo, SMH’s Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control, said last week that “the hospital is busting at the seams.”

“We are still in the exponential phase growth. Are we getting to the top? I hope so because I don’t know how much more we can sustain,” Gordillo said.

Cases have been on the rise since early July. As expected, COVID-related deaths have lagged a few weeks behind. Hospital data shows 69 people have died with COVID-19 since Aug. 1 with 20 of those deaths happening since last Friday.

The hospital has stayed ahead of the curve throughout this latest surge, expanding ICU capacity as needed.

Nationally, the delta variant has sent cases, deaths and hospitalizations soaring in recent weeks, erasing months of progress. Deaths are running at about 1,000 a day on average for the first time since mid-March, and new cases are averaging 147,000 a day, a level last seen at the end of January.

The hospital hopes it won’t have to use the leased trailer.

“We are seeing a flattening of the number of people testing positive at our hospital, so hoping the trend will lead to a decline in hospitalizations in the coming days/weeks,” said a hospital spokesperson.

The hospital continues urging residents to take measures to protect themselves and the community, including masking up, practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding crowds and getting vaccinated.

“Right now, all hospitals in Florida are under tremendous stress, and we need to do everything that we can to restore the ability of our healthcare system to operate more normally,” said Dr. Gordillo.

Just over half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Vaccinations in this country bottomed out in July at an average of about a half-million shots per day, down from a peak of 3.4 million a day in mid-April.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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