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Oregon counties request trucks for bodies as Covid overwhelms morgues | Oregon

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Two Oregon counties hit hard by Covid-19 are running out of space to hold bodies amid an intense surge in cases that is overwhelming the state’s healthcare system, forcing authorities to request refrigerated trucks to help handle the overflow.

In Josephine county, located in the state’s south-west, the local hospital is exceeding its body storage capacity and the area’s five funeral homes and three crematoriums are “at the edge of crisis capacity daily”, the county emergency manager told the state last week. Meanwhile, Tillamook county, on Oregon’s north-west coast, reported that its sole funeral home “is now consistently at or exceeding their capacity” of nine bodies.

Rising cases, mostly among the unvaccinated, have overwhelmed hospitals across the state. In south-west Oregon, cases are increasing faster than anywhere else in the country. Oregon has more people hospitalized than at any other point in the pandemic. Officials attribute the current surge to the hyper-contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some regions, such as Josephine county, where just 40% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. In Tillamook county, 54% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.

“In the past two weeks, we have had more new positive cases than the first 10 months of the pandemic,” the Tillamook county board of commissioners said in a public statement. “The spread of Covid in Tillamook county has reached a critical phase.” The area, which has a population of 26,000, saw six deaths in six days.

Cases in the state are up 33% in the last two weeks, while deaths have risen 48% and hospitalizations are up 126%, according to New York Times data. More than 90% of the state’s ICU beds are full, and the vast majority of patients are unvaccinated.

The governor has dispatched about 1,500 national guard troops to hospitals in the state, as well as crisis teams of healthcare staff, and reinstated a mask mandate. The mask mandate has not yet flattened the rate of infection, said Peter Graven, the lead data scientist in Oregon Health and Science University’s business intelligence unit. Graven projects cases will peak next week with a total of 1,197 people hospitalized statewide with Covid by 6 September. There are currently 1,098 Covid patients hospitalized in the state.

The surge has overwhelmed overworked hospital staff and forced facilities to postpone non-urgent surgeries because they lack the resources to care for those patients and those sick with Covid.

Experts warn that the state must increase vaccinations to fight against the surge and get through the pandemic.

“We are racing against time. We need to outrun the pace of virus mutation,” said Chunhuei Chi, the director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University. “Only vaccination can get us out of this surge and out of this pandemic.”

An unvaccinated worker at an Oregon assisted living facility caused an outbreak that infected 64 people and killed five, public health officials said.

On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 20 new deaths, raising the state’s death toll to 3,115. There have been 268,401 reported cases in the state of 4.2 million since the start of the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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The Groucho

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