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Rock Island County coroner expects 10 COVID-19 deaths a day
COVID-19 IN THE Q-C

Rock Island County coroner expects 10 COVID-19 deaths a day

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In this file photo from December, Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson walks into the county's body cooler in Milan. The morgue can hold the remains of six people, but Gustafson has arrangements to accommodate many more.

If the number of COVID-related deaths in Rock Island County exceeds morgue capacity, the coroner said he can get all the refrigeration trucks he needs within six hours.

Coroner Brian Gustafson said he currently has space for 25 to 35 bodies, mostly by exercising agreements with some of the Illinois Quad-Cities' 15 funeral homes.

"I can handle six, and places like Wheelan and Trimble (funeral homes) can take six to eight," Gustafson said Monday. "Some of the others can take a few here and there.

"Even with the threat we're facing now, I don't think I'm going to need backups from refrigeration trucks. If I do, I can have all I need in six hours."

The current threat for the Illinois death toll is a moving target, Gustafson said, adding that he has heard vastly different predictions.

"I would not be surprised to get 10 COVID deaths a day," he said. "I could end up surprised, though, because we could have more."

Regardless the number, Gustafson said he would anticipate more families than normal would opt for cremation, rather than burial, given the current limitations on permitted attendance at funeral and burial services.

At Trimble Funeral Home in Moline, manager Reid Trimble said the strict rules against large gatherings so far have not produced a noticeable increase in cremations, but he has noticed more people price shopping for cremation services.

One trend he has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic is that funeral webcasts are more in demand.

Over the weekend, Trimble said, 96 people were simultaneously live streaming one funeral service.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is having other impacts on those who routinely deal with death, Gustafson said.

"We have a protocol now in which the (911) dispatcher asks COVID-specific questions when we get death calls," he said. "They ask whether the decedent had a fever, a cough, a respiratory ailment.

"By the time I get there, there's a cop. I'm going to ask that officer if it's a COVID case, and that cop will already know."

In addition to wearing more personal-protective equipment than is routine, Gustafson and his deputy coroners will take other precautions. Because decedents typically exhale when their bodies first are moved, a damp towel is placed over their mouth and nose, he said.

In Scott County, the medical examiner generally does not respond to media inquiries, but the head of the Scott County Health Department, which oversees the medical examiner's office, said plans also exist for managing an increase in COVID deaths in the Iowa Quad-Cities.

"I’m advised we have similar agreements with funeral homes and medical facilities, with a capacity of about 20 (bodies)," said Edward Rivers, director of the health department. "Also, there are plans for backup storage with refrigerated trucks as well."

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