As confirmed cases of novel coronavirus rapidly mount in Florida, the state’s medical centers operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are reportedly now in the process of purchasing “refrigerated mobile morgue trailers.”
According to documents obtained by Quartz, the trailers will be stationed at all seven of Florida’s VA medical centers, with an eighth being sent to Puerto Rico, to help provide more space, which suggests the hospitals are expecting a large influx of dead bodies related to COVID-19.
In Orlando, there are two VA facilities, one near Baldwin Park and one in the Lake Nona area. Both have been plagued by controversy in recent years.
The Lake Baldwin location has struggled to keep its doors open in the past decade; and in September 2019, officials expelled Florida state Reps. Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto, saying there wasn't enough space for their offices. The Lake Nona location broke ground in 2008 and experienced years of delays, eventually culminating in a 2013 Congressional hearing titled "The New Orlando VA Center: Broken Ground, Broken Promises." That facility opened in 2015.
At the federal level, the Department of Veterans Affairs has had its own drama during the Trump administration, with Trump's first choice of Secretary pushed out via tweet, and his second choice, his personal physician, Ronny Jackson, declining the post.
Orlando Weekly reached out to Frank Torres, an Army veteran based in Orlando who writes often on veterans' affairs and politics.
"As a patient, I've heard through social media traffic to use virtual services during the pandemic and practice many of the measures used to avoid exposure that non-VA patients would use," Torres says.
It's not widely known that the VA hospitals are tasked with reinforcing the U.S. medical system if needed and so ordered.
Torres says, "If the cases fall in line with what we're hearing from Mayor Demings and Mayor Dyer, it's a possibility. The VA should be proactive in trying to find ways to help.
"These locations are designed to help veterans, but many non-veterans in Orlando helped make these a reality. They owe it to the community to help if they can."
The announcement of the refrigerated trailers comes as a grim reminder that many hospitals around the country are on the verge of being overrun. Yesterday, FEMA announced that they were sending 85 refrigerated trucks to New York City.
Over the last few days health officials have warned that Florida will be the next potential COVID-19 hot spot. Yesterday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home executive order, which will start Friday and last 30 days.
As of now, the Florida Department of Health says the state has 8,003 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 128 deaths.
One of the reported local infection hotspots is in the same ZIP code as the Lake Nona VA facility.
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