Mayor lies on national television about running out of morgue space due to coronavirus – is anyone surprised? (Op-ed)


PHOENIX, AZ – If you have not yet figured out that the coronavirus might be being used for political purposes, pay attention.

Every day, we are subjected to the number of “new cases” of coronavirus, due in no small part to the rising number of tests that are being conducted. Clearly, the more tests that are conducted, the more positive cases you get.

What is not as widely reported is the number of deaths in comparison to the number of cases.

Now in Phoenix, Arizona, Mayor Kate Gallego sent people into a panic throughout Maricopa County when she announced on television that one of Phoenix’s hospital systems had reached morgue capacity and would need to store dead bodies in freezer trucks.

Pretty scary, right? Except it was not true.

AZ Central reported that Gallego, a Democrat was on MSNBC with Chuck Todd and Katy Tur and said the following:

“Maricopa County, which is our county public health agency, just announced that they’re going to be getting refrigerated trucks because the Abrazo health care system has run out of morgue beds.”

As the comments started to circulate throughout the media, hospital system representatives started to complain that Gallego’s comments were not true.

Her comments were denied by both Abrazo Health and Maricopa County.

According to Abrazo health spokesman Keith Jones, Abrazo hospitals have “adequate morgue space.”

The state of Arizona had requested hospitals implement emergency plans in order to prepare for a possible overload of COVID-19 patients. Abrazo’s plan included having enough morgue space, so the hospital proactively ordered refrigerated storage in the event it was needed, Jones said.

“At this point, it is not needed,” Jones added.

Abrazo’s statement read:

“Abrazo hospitals currently have adequate morgue space. The state has requested that hospitals implement their emergency plans. Part of activating our plan includes the ability to handle overflow morgue capacity if needed.

“Abrazo has taken a proactive approach by ordering refrigerated storage in the event it may be needed during a surge of COVID patients. At this point it is not needed. We do agree with the Mayor’s points around promoting awareness around masking, continuing to practice social distancing and seeking medical care in the event of an emergency need.”

Other healthcare systems in the state were also contacted by the Arizona Republic, and both Banner Health and Dignity Health said they have adequate capacity.

Chris Minnick, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Health Services said that the state wanted to make sure that hospitals were prepared in case of a “surge in deaths.” That would necessarily lead to ordering refrigerated trucks for additional morgue space.

This brings us to November 3. Just as Democrats nationally are trying to use the pandemic as a means to attack President Trump, so too are Democrats in state races attempting to use the coronavirus to increase chances at political change.

In Arizona, Democrats are likely trying to discredit Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s response to COVID as they are trying to flip the senate seat formerly held by the late John McCain, currently held by Republican Martha McSally.

Back to morgue capacity, Minnick said:

“You can think of it in the same terms as when they are ordering additional supplies for surge beds. This plan we’re looking at with the additional staffing that we’re going to have at the hospitals—it’s really all part of the same plan. It’s part of the continuum of care.”

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The morgue is reaching its 150-body capacity according to spokesman Fields Moseley, however not all of that is due to COVID-19.

He noted that the morgue does have the opportunity to add additional capacity to bring it up to a total of 200 if needed, however the county is being proactive in case they exceed 200.

Moseley also said that capacity in the morgue is typically expanded every summer due to a surge in heat-related deaths.

Gallego is clearly playing fast and loose with the facts in order to use political capital for partisan gain. According to Moseley, the Office of the Medical Examiner only  handles deaths that are “sudden, unexpected or traumatic.”

Therefore, very few COVID-19 deaths go through the ME’s office because they typically occur in hospitals and those doctors sign the death certificates.

Gallego attempted to clarify her remarks on MSNBC which no doubt was fishing for more ammunition with which to go after Republicans. After all, that is MSNBC’s schtick. She said in a statement that the city of Phoenix participates in meetings with the Maricopa County Unified Command Center. She said that at one of those meetings, a liaison for Abrazo Health reported the morgue was at capacity.

AZ Central said that Abrazo Health were not immediately able to respond for clarification.

Gallego once again tried to make it appear that COVID-19 was the reason for the morgue being near capacity, at 97%. Moseley reiterated that it was at 96%, however only small amounts of that number are due to COVID-19 cases. Gallego then bailed out and referred questions to Abrazo Health and Maricopa County.

Here is her statement:

“The City of Phoenix participates in meetings with the Maricopa County Unified Command Center. It was reported this week that morgue space is nearing capacity in some cases here in Arizona. An Abrazo liaison reported their morgue is at capacity.

“The command center has also reported that the Maricopa Office of the Medical Examiner is at 97% capacity and is working with the Maricopa Department of Emergency Management to secure a contract for refrigerator trucks. For further information contact Abrazo Health or the Maricopa Department of Emergency Management directly.”

Meanwhile in Pima County, the medical examiner’s office said that they would be storing an additional 150 bodies of people who have died, however reiterated that the storage capacity issues are not related directly to COVID-19 deaths.

They said that capacity concerns have increased in the past few weeks more so due to a “slowdown in the funerary process amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” while dismissing the implication that the surge in COVID-19 deaths is having a negative effect.

They say a backlog in the funeral industry is the reason for the backlog of bodies.

“The remains of those decedents who will be stored with the Office of the Medical Examiner may include some who have died from COVID-19 but not all are pandemic victims.”

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