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Cook County Medical Examiner's Office To Open Refrigerated Warehouse Able To Hold More Than 2,000 Bodies Amid Rising COVID-19 Deaths

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A rising number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths in Cook County has led to a grim step – turning a refrigerated warehouse into a possible makeshift morgue.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office is opening a new "surge center" on Thursday, to increase its own capacity and ease the burden on overcrowded hospital morgues.

The 66,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse, located five miles from the medical examiner's office at 2121 W. Harrison St., will start with capacity for 400 bodies.

More work will be done this weekend to expand the warehouse's capacity. Eventually, it will be able to store more than 2,000 bodies.

As of Wednesday, 312 of the 462 COVID-19 deaths in Illinois have been in Cook County.

"While my hope is that we have made plans that we will not have to utilize, I realize that my administration has a responsibility to prepare for a surge in deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. "We are working diligently to ensure that the victims of this virus are treated with dignity while under our care."

The medical examiner's office last week set up a refrigerated trailer in its parking lot. The trailer is able to store up to 30 bodies.

The county has acquired 14 more refrigerated trailers and is planning to buy six more to support the surge center. Those trailers will be positioned at hospitals that have seen a surge in coronavirus deaths, to prevent their morgues from being overwhelmed.

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