Facing what could be the worst COVID surge yet, Texas is requesting five mortuary trailers from the federal government in anticipation of a spike in deaths. The state requested the trailers from FEMA on August 4 after officials reviewed data from the latest wave of cases and hospitalizations.
The combination of the more-contagious Delta variant and less than half of the state being fully vaccinated (Texas currently ranks 35th in the country) is causing a severe outbreak, with the state seeing 20,000 new cases just on Wednesday. The surge has even gotten to Gov. Greg Abbott, who tested positive on Tuesday. The rise in cases has Texas’ hospital system stretched thin, with more than 90 percent of ICU beds full at the time of this writing. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Abbott has refused to allow local governments to implement vaccine or mask mandates.
Unsurprisingly, the rise in cases and hospitalizations has resulted in a tragic rise in deaths. The 7-day average for COVID-19 in Texas is 119, up 139 percent compared to 14 days ago. In late July, Texas surpassed New York in deaths, the state that was devastated in the early days of the pandemic. Almost all of the dead have been among the unvaccinated. And since the wave of cases is relatively new, the death toll will likely continue to rise in the coming weeks.
The state says that these mobile and refrigerated mortuary trucks are being brought in as a precaution. They’ll be located in San Antonio but can quickly be moved to areas that need it. Fortunately, no specific requests for the use has been made so far.
Mortuary trailers and in some cases refrigerated trucks have been used to house the remains of pandemic victims before, in some cases storing bodies for over a year. They serve as a grim reminder of the enormous human toll exacted by the pandemic, which has killed over 600,000 Americans thus far.
In spite of the grim measure that Texas has taken, there is reason for hope. Although it still lags behind other states, Texas’ vaccination rate is on the rise. The courts are allowing local governments to implement mask mandates in spite of Abbott’s ban and many were already defying the governor’s order.
The arrival of mortuary trucks is a reminder that things can get a lot worse. However, with effective and widely available vaccines as well as the renewed possibility of mask requirements, things can also get better.
Photo: MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images