SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The state of Maryland has opened a temporary morgue at an ice skating and hockey facility to store bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said.
A spokesman for the state health department wouldn’t disclose the location of the “temporary mortuary affairs center,” but a state lawmaker said Wednesday that it opened last month at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, located about midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
About 55 bodies have been taken to the ice rink facility since it opened on April 17 and roughly 30 bodies were there on Wednesday, said Del. Mary Lehman, a Democrat whose district includes Laurel. Lehman said she was given the information by a liaison from the state health department.
The 150,000-square-foot (4,645-square-meter) facility includes one outdoor rink, an Olympic-size rink and two NHL-size rinks, according to its website. The state’s action echoed that taken by officials in Spain who turned a public ice rink on the outskirts of Madrid into a makeshift morgue in March to aid the capital city’s overwhelmed funeral service.
Maryland reported on Wednesday that 1,338 coronavirus deaths in the state have been confirmed by laboratories, and that an additional 99 deaths were probably caused by COVID-19.
Gov, Larry Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday that he didn’t know how long the temporary morgue would be needed.
“Hopefully it won’t be for very long. I was hoping we wouldn’t need it at all, but it is being utilized,” he said.
Lehman said she learned that the temporary morgue had opened in her district from a television reporter who called her on Monday.
“At first, it kind of took my breath away,” she said. “There were indications that the state was looking to lease space to store bodies until they could be claimed, because they knew it was going to become a problem. But we just didn’t know where it was going to be.”
Lehman said the health department liaison confirmed it for her later that day.
“It was kept very quiet,” she said. “They’re trying to be sensitive about it.”
Health department spokesman Charles Gischlar said Tuesday that the facility and county leaders asked the state not to disclose the temporary morgue’s location.
“The facility is operational and provides a secure, high level of dignity and respect for the deceased as they await transport to a funeral home or mortuary facility,” he said in a statement.
Lehman said COVID-19 wasn’t the cause of death for all the bodies taken to the ice rink facility.
“But the situation has definitely been caused by (COVID-19),” she added. “The combination of COVID and non-COVID deaths are overwhelming the system that’s in place in Maryland.”
Lehman said the temporary morgue supplements the body-storage capacity of the Maryland Anatomy Board and also gives relatives more time to claim bodies and make funeral arrangements.
“I think it actually shows good planning and thinking ahead,” she said.
Associated Press reporter Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.