“My morgue was completely full all last week. It’s bad … ” |
“The bodies are piling up fast”
COVID-19 deaths are exploding in the state – and it may be a massive undercount. One coroner put it simply: “It’s bad.”
Aug. 02, 2020
Daily Beast – In the months before his county’s morgue neared capacity, before he started wearing his face shield and “moon suit” to answer calls in neighbors’ homes, and before his own coronavirus diagnosis got him admitted to the hospital, Coahoma County, Mississippi, coroner Scotty Meredith knew this summer was going to be the worst in his three decades on the job.
On April 3, as COVID-19 deaths in Mississippi hovered in the low double-digits, the state’s chief medical examiner, Mark LeVaughn, fired off a letter to Meredith and the state’s 80 other coroners.
State law outlines a simple procedure for investigating deaths outside a hospital: the coroner collects evidence at the scene, then sends the body to a medical examiner in Jackson for autopsy.
But the gist of the ME’s letter, obtained by The Daily Beast, was that when it came to deaths from COVID-19, coroners were on their own.
For years now, the severely understaffed state medical examiner’s office has struggled to handle all of the deaths in Mississippi.
Doing so has often meant shifting more of the burden for handling deaths onto county coroners, who, unlike medical examiners, usually don’t have a medical degree and cannot perform autopsies.
The problem with being shut out from the medical examiner’s office, as Meredith explained, “is not just that they’re not taking the cases, but there’s not any guidance” for what to do with a suspected coronavirus case.
Several coroners said they’ve begun rationing supplies, like test kits, echoing supply-chain woes in other hard-hit states since the early days of the pandemic that experts generally believe have deflated the COVID-19 death count.
But in Mississippi, the bodies are piling up fast.
“My morgue was completely full all last week,” Panola County Coroner Gracie Gulledge told The Daily Beast … Read more.