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A Closer Look At Florida's Mass Casualty Response And The COVID Surge

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Dr. Jason Byrd is the associate director of the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida and commander of the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System.

Dr. Jason Byrd, a forensic medicine expert with the University of Florida, talks about how the state can to assist overwhelmed medical examiners offices, hospitals and funeral homes.

Crematoriums in Orange County are backing up. Crematoriums are where bodies are cremated after death. Orange County Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany says there are so many deaths from COVID-19 that crematoriums can’t keep up. 

“Unfortunately you can’t just run a crematorium straight at one temperature, there’s procedures to it,” Dr. Stephany told WMFE.

“When you’re dealing with the amount of deceased individuals in Central Florida and Florida and the rest of the country, everyone is getting backed up.”

The state does have resources on standby to help medical examiners, hospitals and crematoriums if called upon.

Dr. Jason Byrd, the associate director of the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida, is also commander of  the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System (FEMORS). 

“We have enough equipment and resources to respond to up to 500 simultaneous deaths. So that reserve capacity is important if you happen to have an incident,” Dr. Byrd tells WMFE's Intersection.

He says FEMORS staff can help medical examiners deal with paperwork associated with mass casualty events. FEMORS can also help supply extra morgue capacity or refrigerated trucks.

He says hospitals would typically pass human remains onto funeral homes fairly quickly, and funeral homes also would not be storing those remains for very long.

“So the ability to have excess storage is very limited in the state with hospitals and funeral homes,” Byrd says.

Byrd says FEMORS staff were deployed early in the pandemic to help medical examiners deal with the surge in paperwork, but so far this year they have not been called upon.

“We have not deployed for the pandemic this year, we’ve done a lot of consulting, and the requests that have come through have been thankfully for extra capacity with refrigerated storage. And then we have been able to work with those requests to find some solutions for their refrigerated storage needs.”

Copyright 2021 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.