New Mexico receives ‘mortuary trailers’ as COVID-19 death toll rises

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As coronavirus cases surge in New Mexico, the state is also working behind-the-scenes to prepare for the more grim reality of the pandemic. The state is bringing in extra “mortuary trailers” to store the deceased.

Doña Ana County has reported 150 COVID-related deaths. According to the state health department, more than half of those deaths took place in just the last few weeks.

“We have been talking about mortuary trailers amongst ourselves since March,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department. “We monitor that once a week, we look at what the capacity we have is. We have a total capacity of about 1,200, and about half of that is occupied.” 

New Mexico has received more “mortuary trailers,” which are large trucks that provide climate-controlled storage for bodies when facilities reach capacity. Last week, Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces received its first “mobile morgue,” which replaced an old trailer they had on-site.

It’s part of the state’s crisis contingency plan. On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pointed out that the more deaths and hospitalizations are expected with such high COVID-19 caseloads.

The additional storage, Dr. Scrase said, now increases New Mexico’s capacity by providing extra space for an additional 600 bodies. “That seems like a huge number, but then when you look at the number of people that are passing every day, it’s over 20. You know, that’s less than 30 days, and so we are continuing to work on that, and monitor it very very closely,” said Dr. Scrase.

For nearly 90% of COVID-related deaths in New Mexico, the coronavirus is marked as the primary cause. The other 10% include COVID-19, along with underlying conditions like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic lung disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer.

The Office of the Medical Investigator said it has had a partnership with the Department of Health for these storage units since the spring.

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