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Maricopa County activates additional coolers for surge capacity

PHOENIX – Maricopa County officials said Wednesday the Medical Examiner’s Office activated additional coolers this week.

Officials said 22 bodies were moved from the internal coolers at the medical examiner’s office to the outside coolers brought in to help with the increase in deaths.

Maricopa County has seen a sharp increase in deaths compared to this time last year but has not provided an exact answer on what’s lead to the increase.

However, as of Thursday, the state has seen 4,002 deaths from coronavirus, with 2,259 coming from Maricopa County.

“We hit a threshold that we felt like we needed to go ahead and implement the plan that was described a couple of weeks ago,” Maricopa County Communications Director Fields Moseley said in a press conference Wednesday.

Last month, county officials said the Medical Examiner doesn’t handle many coronavirus-related deaths, but it has to store decedents after all autopsies are completed until they can be transferred to funeral homes.

The bodies that were moved to the coolers were completed cases that were waiting to be picked up by the funeral homes.

In mid-July, the county brought in four portable coolers to help with morgue capacity, which would provide an additional 60-80 spaces.

Last month, Moseley said the county hadn’t ordered extra coolers in at least the past 10 years.

“Once we had the coolers installed, additional planning with the OME had us set a threshold of 85% of internal capacity where we would activate the temporary morgue site,” Maricopa County director of emergency management Robert Rowley said.

Rowley said on Monday the office reported 86% capacity which led to the activation of the temporary morgue site.

Rowley said the plan is to ensure they consistently have adequate capacity at the medical examiner’s office so they can continue to receive new cases and conduct investigations.

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