Medical examiner in Phoenix adds refrigerated containers for backup storage

Ten coolers are now at a downtown Phoenix parking garage next to the morgue and they could be used to store bodies if needed, officials say.
Published: Jul. 26, 2023 at 5:52 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 26, 2023 at 5:53 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — As the Phoenix area reaches nearly a month of extreme heat, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office is preparing for the worst. Arizona’s Family confirmed on Wednesday that the county brought in refrigerated containers and placed them in the parking garage at 4th and Madison avenues in downtown Phoenix, near the M.E.’s office. They’ll be used as backup storage for bodies should the facility reach capacity.

Right now, a county spokesman says the Medical Examiner’s Office is over normal capacity, which is 224 bodies. They have a surge capacity that can hold up to 358 people. While they haven’t reached that level yet, people in the M.E.’s office are working more hours. The coolers, if needed, can give them storage space to continue with a typical workflow. “While we typically see a surge in intakes to the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) in July, this year has been worse than prior years,” said Jason Berry, a Maricopa County spokesman. It’s unclear how long the coolers will be at the parking garage.

This isn’t the first time the office has used similar coolers. During the summer of 2020, the county saw a surge in COVID-19 deaths and brought in 10 cooling trailers.

On Wednesday, Maricopa County said seven more deaths were confirmed to be linked to the heat, bringing the total of heat-related deaths to 25 so far this year. There are 249 deaths under investigation, which is four times higher compared to last week. Last year at this time, 38 deaths were confirmed to be heat-related, while 256 were under investigation. Only five of the deaths were indoors, while the rest were outdoors.

Phoenix’s high temperature reached 118 degrees on Wednesday. It also marked the 27th straight day with 110° or more. The Valley has now seen 14 days of temperatures at 115° or higher, tying a record set in 2020.

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