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Texas requests five mortuary trailers from FEMA, bracing for more covid-19 deaths

An inmate from the El Paso County detention center waits to help load bodies into a temporary morgue trailer Nov. 16. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Texas health officials have requested five mortuary trailers from the federal government in anticipation of a possible spike in deaths brought about by surging coronavirus numbers in the state.

The Texas Department of State Health Services made a request Aug. 4 through the Texas Division of Emergency Management to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for five mortuary trailers, agency spokesman Douglas Loveday confirmed to The Washington Post, adding the request was made as a precaution. NBC News previously reported the state’s request for mortuary trailers.

The trailers will be kept in San Antonio in case any nearby areas need the additional resource, though Loveday said no specific requests have been made. Still, officials are anticipating a potential need for these trailers in the state. Loveday said FEMA had also provided trailers for earlier increases in covid-19-related deaths.

Mobile and refrigerated mortuary trucks were seen as a grim symbol during earlier waves of the pandemic. Trailers were delivered to cities to keep pace with mounting deaths, and in some places they reportedly remained in place as makeshift morgues months into the pandemic.

Hundreds of bodies of covid-19 victims are still in New York’s refrigerated trucks more than a year into the pandemic

The anticipated need for the trailers reflects the challenges of the latest wave of the pandemic — one fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant and the millions who remain unvaccinated — a combination that’s strained hospital capacity in some areas, including parts of Texas.

“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,” Loveday said in an email to The Post. “Knowing that it takes a few weeks for these to arrive, we wanted to go ahead and put the request in.”

The seven-day average of new cases in Texas was 15,554 as of Tuesday, and the seven-day average of new deaths was 92. The state had an 11 percent increase in the seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases in the week ending Tuesday, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, and a 64 percent rise in new deaths.

The state’s seven-day average of hospitalizations was 12,141 as of Tuesday, and the number of ICU covid-19 patients was at 3,131 — numbers that have risen sharply after dwindling earlier this year. Covid-related hospitalizations rose more than 20 percent in the past week in Texas.

In recent days, health systems in the state have described how the influx of cases has pushed intensive care units to capacity.

On Monday, a Texas judge granted a temporary injunction request by San Antonio and Bexar County against Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order barring local governments from issuing mask mandates. The decision followed one day after the Texas Supreme Court sided with Abbott to allow the governor’s ban on mask mandates to stand, at least temporarily.

Texas Supreme Court sides with Gov. Abbott, temporarily blocking mask mandates

FEMA spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg confirmed to The Post that five mobile mortuary trailers are set to arrive in Texas this week.

Rothenberg said with support from FEMA, such requests from states are filled by the Department of Health and Human Services. Both agencies, she added, would continue to work with Texas to provide any needed resources.

FEMA added in a statement that it works “with each state individually to discuss current shortfalls, anticipated needs and available deployable assets.”

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