Texas county gets trucks to hold bodies amid COVID-19 surge

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A North Texas medical examiner’s office has brought in two refrigerated trucks to store dead bodies in response to low capacity amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Many of the hospitals and larger funeral homes in the Fort Worth area have reached their storage capacity or will soon, said Nizam Peerwani, Tarrant County’s chief medical examiner.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, which has a capacity normally of 100 bodies, said each truck can store 50 bodies.

Officials expect to start using the trucks in the next few days.

Also Thursday, a South Texas county that has been hit especially hard by the pandemic announced that its county judge, the county’s highest elected official, tested positive for COVID-19.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, 77, has worked from home for most of the pandemic, and learned of his positive test after a family member tested positive. So far he hasn’t had symptoms.

“I have taken all the precautions that I could to prevent infection, but I still have contracted this awful virus,” Cortez said. “This goes to show you how contagious this virus can be.”

For a third day in a row, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas surpassed 9,000. The Texas Department of State Health Services said that 9,045 people with the coronavirus were hospitalized Thursday. Last week marked the first time Texas surpassed a daily count of 9,000 hospitalizations since a deadly summer outbreak.

State health officials on Thursday reported 12,211 new confirmed cases and 244 new deaths. The state says almost 1.3 million people have tested positive in Texas.

There have been more than more than 23,600 COVID-19-related deaths in Texas, the second highest in the country, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have determined.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has remained mostly constant around 13,000 per day, according to Johns Hopkins.

The true number of infections in Texas is likely higher because many haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

Because of the ongoing disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Texas Education Agency said Thursday that A-F ratings would be paused the school year, though students will still have to take standardized tests.

The TEA said the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, also known as STAAR, helps provide teachers and parents with information about what a student has learned. The agency said if schools incorporate STAAR results into teacher evaluations, it will allow them to remove that component this year.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.