The US Department of Veterans Affairs is buying “refrigerated mobile morgue trailers” for each of its seven medical centers in Florida. That’s according to a request for quotes reviewed by Quartz, which suggests the VA is expecting a large influx of Covid-19 cases in the state.
Refrigerated morgue trailers provide space for dead bodies when traditional hospital morgues are full. The VA’s impending purchase is a grim reminder of how serious a threat the novel coronavirus has become.
As the pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, authorities are scrambling to keep up. The VA has administered nearly 17,000 Covid-19 tests nationwide, with more than 1,300 of its patients testing positive. VA hospitals are severely understaffed, lacking doctors, nurses, and nursing assistants, according to agency data cited by The Center for Investigative Reporting. Last week, a patient died of complications from Covid-19 at Miami’s VA hospital, which reportedly lacks enough face masks for its staff.
Florida may now be on its way to becoming a new hotspot. For weeks, Florida governor Ron DeSantis downplayed the threat and resisted issuing a stay-at-home order, allowing beaches to remain open during spring break. Half of Florida’s residents, many of them over the age of 65, are considered at high-risk for contracting the disease.
In New York City, where more than 1,300 people so far have died of Covid-19, the medical examiner’s office has set up refrigerated morgue trailers outside hospitals in every borough. On Wednesday the Pentagon confirmed it is seeking 100,000 body bags for civilian use.
The VA’s Florida facilities are located in Gainesville, Tampa, Bay Pines, Lake City, Miami, Orlando, and West Palm Beach, where the VA hospital sits about 11 miles from US president Donald Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club. An eighth refrigerated morgue trailer will be going to a VA facility in Puerto Rico.
Trump, who recently claimed he’d have the nation open for business by Easter, has now extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April. However, his surgeon general, Jerome Adams, says the recommendation will likely extend beyond that date.
The VA did not respond to Quartz’s request for comment.