Texas Requests Mortuary Trailers From FEMA As COVID-19 Cases Soar

Coronavirus deaths have been rising in the state since June, when federal health officials began warning of the new and highly transmissible delta variant.

Health officials in Texas have requested five mortuary trailers from the federal government as coronavirus cases continue to balloon across the state, bringing with them a steady rise in related deaths.

Texas officials requested the refrigerated trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Aug. 4 “as a precaution.” They will be staged in San Antonio for use when needed, a press officer with the Texas Department of State Health Services told HuffPost.

“We don’t know of any place that needs these now due to COVID, but part of a response is being prepared for what could happen,” DSHS spokesperson Douglas Loveday said in an email Tuesday. “Knowing that it takes a few weeks for these to arrive, we wanted to go ahead and put the request in.”

A construction crew sets up tents that hospital officials plan to use for an overflow of COVID-19 patients outside of Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston on Aug. 9.
A construction crew sets up tents that hospital officials plan to use for an overflow of COVID-19 patients outside of Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston on Aug. 9.
Godofredo A. Vásquez via AP

The trailers serve as temporary morgues when local facilities are otherwise overwhelmed. Eight of them were sent to the Lone Star state near the start of the pandemic last April when the state was reporting fewer than 1,000 new cases a day.

At the time, the trailers were said to be there as a precaution, though the state had requested 14 more by that July, according to CNBC. Officials asked for additional mortuary trailers again last fall as Texas became the first state in the country to surpass 1 million cumulative coronavirus cases, as Reuters reported.

Statewide, Texas has reported some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country, with the state’s health department reporting an average of around 12,000 new cases over the last seven days.

Roxana Weeks, 8, and her sister Farah, 4, protest with other children and parents outside the Texas governor's mansion to urge Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to drop his opposition to public school mask mandates on Monday.
Roxana Weeks, 8, and her sister Farah, 4, protest with other children and parents outside the Texas governor's mansion to urge Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to drop his opposition to public school mask mandates on Monday.
Eric Gay via AP

Though fatalities were generally dropping in Texas since January, they sharply rose in June when federal health officials began warning of the new and highly transmissible delta variant of the virus spreading throughout the country.

As of Friday, coronavirus deaths in Texas have increased by 57% from the prior week, according to a state profile report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

With cases and related hospitalizations rising, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ― who tested positive for the virus on Tuesday ― directed the state’s DSHS last week to use staffing agencies to hire out-of-state medical personnel to support overwhelmed Texas medical workers, The Associated Press reported. Abbott also asked the Texas Hospital Association to request that hospitals postpone all elective medical procedures voluntarily.

Refrigerated trailers at a temporary morgue in Brooklyn, New York, in June. The trailers serve as temporary morgues when local facilities are otherwise overwhelmed.
Refrigerated trailers at a temporary morgue in Brooklyn, New York, in June. The trailers serve as temporary morgues when local facilities are otherwise overwhelmed.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Though Abbott has advocated for coronavirus vaccines, he has simultaneously fought local governments’ efforts to impose mask mandates that help stop the virus from spreading. Opponents of such mandates believe people should have the right to choose whether to wear a mask or not, regardless of the public health implications of their decisions.

“The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates,” Abbott said last week while announcing legal action to fight mask mandates.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Tuesday on the requests for mortuary trailers.

The U.S. has reported 2.7 million new COVID-19 cases over the last 28 days. That’s more than double the number reported by India, which has the second-highest number of infections and reported just over 1 million new cases during that same time period, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.