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With morgues filling as COVID surges, Banner using refrigerated trucks

(Banner Health Photo)

PHOENIX — With COVID-19 wreaking havoc across Arizona, the state’s largest hospital system said it needs refrigerated trucks to deal with the surge of deaths.

“These deaths have caused us to exceed our morgue capacity at some of our hospitals, which has resulted in the use of refrigerated trucks to expand our morgue capacity,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health’s chief clinical officer, said Friday during a livestreamed press conference.

Bessel said one truck is currently in use at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, while another truck is on standby at a Banner storage facility.

The seven-day average for newly reported COVID-19 fatalities has tripled in Arizona since Dec. 1, according to tracking by The Associated Press. On Thursday, the daily average for the last seven days was up to 74.71.

Hospitalizations have also soared. Thursday was Arizona’s seventh consecutive day with a record-breaking number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 inpatients.

“Our COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 93% during November,” Bessel said. “They’ve increased again by that same number in the first 15 days of December.

“Exponential growth doubling time was four weeks in November. In December, it has now been only two weeks. There is concern that this may go to one week, and then to four days over the Christmas holidays.”

Bessel said Banner hospitals are seeing far more patients with serious illness than usual this time of year.

“We started November with ICU occupancy closer to 75% of our peak winter occupancy, and now that occupancy is at 150% of our peak for a typical winter season,” she said.

She also said nearly 60% of patients coming to emergency rooms test are testing positive for COVID-19.

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