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St. Louis County builds temporary morgue to house bodies of COVID-19 victims

St. Louis County builds temporary morgue to house bodies of COVID-19 victims

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY — St. Louis County is building a temporary morgue to store bodies of people who have died from COVID-19 infections, the Post-Dispatch has learned.

The complex is under construction in Earth City, the unincorporated community along Interstate 70 across the Missouri River from St. Charles.

A Post-Dispatch journalist on Monday saw heating and air conditioning contractors and electrical workers working at a light industrial facility, under guard by a county police officer. The facility is expected to open by the end of the week, said Doug Moore, a spokesman for County Executive Sam Page.

Page discussed the construction of a temporary morgue in his comments to reporters on Monday, but did not offer specifics. He said his staff had been working closely with representatives from different faiths about how to handle bodies with dignity.

The Post-Dispatch has requested more detailed information about the temporary morgue.

The county’s existing morgue is in a single-story building adjacent to the county’s Department of Public Health complex at Airport and Hanley roads in Berkeley. The morgue has a capacity for 20 bodies, one per cart. A Post-Dispatch story in 2017 showed how the county morgue was frequently full of the bodies of people who died from opioid use, and that the county was evaluating whether to deploy a portable morgue meant for disasters.

The medical examiner is required under state law in many types of deaths to take charge of the bodies and investigate facts concerning the medical cause of death. Those deaths include people who die of homicide, suicide, or a disease that is thought to be hazardous or contagious.

As of Sunday, 42 people in St. Louis County had died from infections caused by the new coronavirus. There were 19 deaths in St. Louis, 13 in St. Charles County, three in Jefferson County and 12 in the Metro East counties of Madison, Monroe and St. Clair. But the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force has warned there could be 80,000 people infected, which could lead to hundreds of deaths.

“I think we have to recognize that anytime you have a tragedy like this, that loss of life is a part of it and we need to be very respectful about how we communicate that the individuals who have lost loved ones and make sure that they have the ability to grieve and mourn properly and that we respect the dignity that is involved in loss of life,” Page said.

“We don’t expect to see that magnitude of loss of life here in the St. Louis region,” he said. “But we do expect to see more than we’re used to and we’re making arrangements to manage that. We will work cooperatively to manage that with our surrounding jurisdictions and we will be prepared with a temporary facility if we need it because we think that it’s important to make sure that families who have lost loved ones in our community have a way to grieve in a proper and respectful manner.

“We’ve been working very closely with the interfaith coalition here in St. Louis County. We’ve had discussions with them about what the proper and respectful and dignified way is to manage loss of life in our community.”

This story will be updated.

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