Yamhill County will ask the state to help it buy a refrigerated trailer to handle victims of a "mass fatality" event.
County commissioners voted Thursday morning, July 9, to approve an application by Lindsey Manfrin, director of the county Health and Human Services Department, for $20,000 through the Oregon Health Authority to buy a refrigerated trailer. The county doesn't have the money for the trailer, so it will ask the state for help.
Manfrin told commissioners in a July 2 email that she drafted a plan "outlining standard operating procedures for the use of this type of trailer" after talking with "funeral homes, medical examiners, hospitals and other relevant parties who would be involved in a mass fatality incident."
"A mass fatality incident would easily overwhelm our current capacity for decedent storage and processing as identified during mass fatality incident exercises," Manfrin wrote in her email.
The trailer would be used to store remains of the mass fatality victims, she wrote.
Board Chair Casey Kulla said a county environmental health and safety officer had worked on plans to acquire a refrigerated trailer well before the COVID-19 virus hit Oregon. "Public Health and the medical examiner have long understood they should have something like this available for what have become regular, human-caused disasters," Kulla said.
Planned for many months
Both commissioners and Manfrin emphasized that plans to purchase a refrigerated trailer had been considered for months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak early this year.
Commissioner Mary Starrett said the issue was raised about a year ago during an emergency management exercise. Purchasing a trailer as an overflow morgue was added to the county's plans for dealing with disasters of all types, she said.
"This is not something that we had any equipment to handle," Starrett said. "This has come up in prior years long before the COVID-19 pandemic."
Manfrin told commissioners in a follow-up email that the issue was part of normal emergency preparedness planning. "When we had several COVID-19 deaths in a short time period we did have one hospital overwhelmed as they have no refrigerated storage facility," she wrote. "However, we have known that decedent storage has been a need for some time and have been waiting for the opportunity for grant funding to come along. This need has come up in our mass fatality planning that is part of our normal emergency preparedness work and was happening pre-COVID-19. It is generally centered around events such as Cascadia (earthquake) or a major vehicle/bus accident where we know existing storage would be easily overwhelmed."
Commissioner Richard Olson said the trailer would be necessary, even if it's not used for months. "This is part of our preparedness," he said. "We might not use it for five or six years. We might use it tomorrow."
Similar refrigerated trailers have been used in other states as the COVID-19 virus swept across the country. The trailers that hold dozens of bodies became temporary morgues for hospitals overwhelmed by virus patients.
Oregon has nearly 12,000 COVID-19 cases, with nearly 250 deaths. Oregon hospitals have about 200 suspected or confirmed virus patients, nearly 60 of those in intensive care beds and about 30 on ventilators. Yamhill County has more than 150 COVID-19 cases, with nine deaths. Providence Newberg Medical Center and the Willamette Valley Medical Center in McMinnville both have reported fewer than nine COVID-19 patients.
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