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COVID causes lack of body storage space in coroner’s office, hospitals

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 7:07 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Kevin Kirby, Warren County Coroner and owner of the J.C. Kirby & Son Funeral Chapel is used to working long days in what is a notoriously grueling profession. But he has almost never experienced a pandemic like the Delta variant wave of coronavirus that is sweeping over the U.S., leading to a surge in cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations in Kentucky.

Kirby says due to COVID-19, local hospitals and funeral homes are running out of room to properly store the bodies of the deceased. The lack of refrigeration space is due to the spike in the Delta variants.

Wednesday, Gov. Beshear announced a record number of virus patients being treated in hospital intensive care units.

“It is a problem right now and it is something that we’re looking at,” Coroner Kirby said. “We went through this last year. We went through the same problem. We had looked at some alternative things at that time, but it just didn’t work out at that time where we could do that through the county.”

J.C. & Sons Funeral Home already has a large refrigeration unit to store deceased bodies and accommodate a good number of people. This serves both the funeral home and the county because Kevin Kirby is the Warren County Coroner. Since the start of the pandemic, local funeral homes began assisting local hospitals with storage for the deceased. However, since the recent delta variant surge, those funeral homes are now also being overpopulated with deceased bodies.

“With COVID, there is a big surge of it in our area right now and it does put a lot of necessity to the hospitals and the funeral homes to be able to do that,” Kirby said. “The way it has been here in the last few months, it stays, I hate to say it, but it stays pretty full a lot because of the number of COVID deaths. Just our funeral home alone, we’ve serviced 17 COVID cases in the last two weeks this month that we serve through our facility.”

Warren County has put out bids to buy a 16-person storage trailer to assist the hospitals and the coroner’s office accommodate more people.

“We were able to get funding and be able to get this done, so this will be in place. If the bids come in rapidly, then we could have this unit in our community within a week or so,” Kirby said.

Kirby says he hopes to never need the refrigerated trailer again, but it will be available if another pandemic or similar situation arises. Also, the trailer would be available to Emergency Management Services in the county.

“It has been years since there’s been a pandemic. We studied this in coroner’s training a lot, we knew what could happen. We were, I wouldn’t say fully prepared, but very well prepared in the state of Kentucky for what we are seeing. But we are looking at what has happened and we’re going to make sure that we’re prepared one hundred percent on anything that would happen again like that,” Kirby said.

Bids for the new equipment, Kirby says, are expected this coming week.

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