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Illinois rents 10 refrigerated trailers as COVID-19 morgue contingency

Invoice shows $29,000 purchase for disease response

Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois has rented 10 refrigerated semi-truck trailers to store the bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients in case morgues become filled to capacity. A running total of state COVID-19-related expenditures from the comptroller’s office shows a Tuesday, April 21, invoice of $29,137.02 for the “rental of 10 refrigerator trailers for COVID-19 response.”

The trailers are “part of the state’s response to expand mortuary capacity,” an Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokesperson said in an email. “These structures are being retrofitted for medical examiners throughout the state should a need arise,” the spokesperson said.

The state rented the trailers from Cooling Concepts LLC, located in Belleville. A company official said a privacy policy built into all of its contracts prevents it from disclosing information on the matter. The official added that Cooling Concepts “specializes in equipment for food delivery, food storage, and pharmaceutical delivery, and pharmaceutical storage.”

Cook County, which had recorded 1,072 of the state’s 1,565 COVID-19 deaths as of Thursday morning, April 16, already has refrigerated trailers of its own. An April 9 news release said the county acquired 14 refrigerated trailers and was in the process of securing six more to support a refrigerated warehouse that can hold more than 2,000 decedents.

Cook County’s trailers will be prepositioned at hospitals experiencing surges so their morgues are not overwhelmed, according to the release. “We do not anticipate needing any space beyond what we have already acquired,” a county spokesperson said. Refrigerated trailers have been used by hospitals in states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Tennessee as overflow morgue capacity.

As of Thursday morning, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data, Will County has recorded Illinois’ second-most total deaths from COVID-19 with 110, followed by DuPage County with 103, and Lake County with 89. Remaining counties have recorded fewer than 40 each.

A model released by Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration to the Chicago Sun-Times shows peak deaths are projected to be between 50 and 150 per day from now through the first week in May. Over the past week, Illinois has twice seen 125 deaths in a day, its largest daily increase.

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