Despite the circumstances with the COVID-19 outbreak, a coroners job still needs to be done.
Local county coroners face challenges, some different from others. York County faces a different epidemic, the opioid epidemic. Deaths to due opioids have tripled from January to March. The county has been at or near capacity for several weeks at the hospital morgue. Just this week, a wavier approved to soon continue construction on their new morgue. In the meantime, officials are considering portable storage containers for additional space.
“We’ve looked at portable storage containers' says York County coroner Pam Gay. 'We’re hoping we don’t have to go that route but, truly, if the opioid epidemic does increase we may have to do that. I’m hoping not.”
Hospitals have now trained staff to complete electronic death certificates, so hospitals can get information to the Department of Health, faster. All secondary facilities like nursing homes, hospice and assisted living are to also notify their county coroner of a COVID-19 death.
Other counties running into the problem of waiting on test packets to arrive.
“It’s the unknown because we just don’t have the testing,' says Dauphin County coroner Graham Hetrick. 'If it takes five to six days to get a test back and a deputy has been exposed, it’s not going to be very helpful. Where there’s possibilities of the COVID, in at the same time, we need to determine cause or manner of death or it’s a homicide, where we have to collect evidence. We just have to risk it.”
Dauphin County using a process called dry stream to clean the coroners suite better than spray could. They also hope to receive teats to find out, within minutes, if they're dealing with the disease in the field.
“And just like anything else, all steel goes through fire,' says Hetrick. 'We’re going to go through fire but we’re going to come out the other end of this and come out even stronger.”