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Public Health

COVID-19 Surge In Washoe Co. Means Funeral Homes Are Nearing Capacity

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In Washoe, over 250 residents have died due to COVID-19. And 65 of those deaths were reported in the last 30 days. That accounts for a quarter of all total COVID-19 deaths in the county. The region’s coroner is concerned funeral homes are nearing capacity.

The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner Dr. Laura Knight said her office has seen more total deaths from all causes so far this year compared to 2019.

“We’ve reached the total number of deaths from 2019 already this year, prior to Thanksgiving. All of the excess deaths, including those from COVID-19, may stress our regional capacity to store bodies within refrigeration prior to their final disposition, whether that’s by burial or cremation,” Knight said.

Knight said the examiner’s office has about 200 spaces available to store bodies. Currently, about 10% of it is in use, and what’s worrying her: some local mortuaries and funeral homes in northern Nevada are already close to 90% capacity.

COVID-19-related deaths aren’t Knight’s only concern. Drug-related deaths have increased by about a third compared to the year before.

“What we are seeing an increase in, are drug-related deaths, particularly as those in the addiction community may be relapsing, due to the difficult and trying situation,” Knight said.

Also, health officials typically report more deaths during the winter months from illnesses like influenza and other infectious diseases.

Knight is concerned about deaths continuing to rise at exponential rates, which could potentially max out storage capacity by the end of the year. If that were to happen, the examiner’s office would be forced to use refrigerated shipping containers to store bodies.

And while COVID-19-related deaths are on the rise in the region — so are the cases. That’s according to Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick

“We have four times as many people in Washoe County that are actively infected with COVID-19 right now, as we did a month ago.”

Dick appeared somber during Tuesday’s press call.

He once again pleaded with the public to celebrate Thanksgiving with one’s household only.

“I recognize that this is not what people want to do. It’s not the tradition that people have enjoyed for many years, but tragically, with the deaths that we've had in Washoe County, we have over 250 of our residents that are gone, and their families are celebrating Thanksgiving without them this year,” Dick said.

One of the recent deaths includes 64-year-old Brent Boynton, a well-known member of the community. He was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, and had spent 30 years in television news prior to his recent work at the Reno Housing Authority. There was an outpouring of emotion on social media paying tribute to his life and career.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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