An ice rink in Maryland is being used to store bodies during the coronavirus pandemic, a Maryland representative confirmed to CBS News on Wednesday. According to the state's health department, a "temporary mortuary affairs center" is housing the deceased "as they await transport to a funeral home or mortuary facility."
The center is located at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Maryland, about 20 miles from Baltimore, according to state delegate Mary Lehman, who lives in and represents the city of Laurel. Lehman said a health department representative informed her that the rink has been serving as a temporary location for bodies since April 17.
"It was kept very quiet, not to be secretive so much as it is just a sensitive situation and the state is trying to make things as dignified as possible," Lehman said. The health department told CBS News that it was "asked by the facility and governing county leaders to not disclose the name or location of the facility."
Lehman said the deceased are in body bags "on raised platforms a few inches above the ice," with a Maryland flag placed on top of each one. "(The) Health Department believes, and I agree, that storing bodies at the ice rink is more dignified than putting them in refrigerated trucks," Lehman said.
According to the health department representative, Lehman said, over 50 bodies have been brought to the center so far, and about 30 are currently at the facility. She noted that both people who have died from COVID-19, and those who have not, have been brought to the center.
"These are bodies that were not claimed within the 72 hours required under (state) law from a hospital morgue," Lehman said. The bodies were either sent to the center by Maryland's State Anatomy Board or directly from a hospital, she added.
The State Anatomy Board in Baltimore will hold a body "for a minimum of three (3) days and as long as seven (7) days," according to its information for families of unclaimed decedents. If the bodies were sent directly from a hospital to the rink, Lehman said, it is "because the Anatomy Board has run out of room due to the combination of COVID and non-COVID deaths that are overwhelming the current system."
There have been 1,338 confirmed and 99 probable deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Maryland, according to the state's health department. An additional 1,707 people are currently hospitalized due to the disease.
It is unclear how long bodies will be housed at the rink. "It will be for some time until the number of COVID deaths begins to decline and there is less strain on the system," Lehman said.
According to Lehman's health department source, a lease arrangement for the temporary morgue was set for 90 days, but may be extended. Use of the ice rink could also enable the Anatomy Board to extend its usual seven-day window for next-of-kin to make arrangements with a funeral home or crematorium.
"These are such unusual times with stay home orders, travel challenges and fears for loved ones who are out of state, and financial hardships that may prevent family from being able to afford funeral home services," Lehman said. "The state's goal is to make this as dignified and compassionate as possible."