Medical Examiner’s Office Opens Surge Center to Manage COVID-19 Fatalities


COOK COUNTY — The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office will open its surge center today to expand capacity and ease overcrowding at hospital morgues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The County’s Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security (EMRS) managed planning and is coordinating logistics for the center operations.

The 66,000-square foot refrigerated warehouse will have the capacity to hold more than 2,000 decedents. The facility is located five miles from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“While my hope is that we have made plans that we will not have to utilize, I realize that my administration has a responsibility to prepare for a surge in deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “We are working diligently to ensure that the victims of this virus are treated with dignity while under our care.”

EMRS has acquired 14 refrigerated trailers and in the process of securing six more to support the surge center. The trailers will be prepositioned at hospitals that are experiencing surges so their morgues are not overwhelmed. EMRS is communicating with points of contact at hospitals multiple times a day to capture information about their capacity and needs in real time.

“Under President Preckwinkle’s leadership our department has always prioritized under-resourced communities,” said William Barnes, executive director of EMRS. “This situation is no different. We are paying special attention to the southern portion of Cook County, an area that is traditionally disproportionately impacted during crises.”

Over the past decade both the Medical Examiner’s Office and EMRS have directed and participated in pandemic and mass casualty exercises and conducted planning sessions for a variety of simulated scenarios.

The Medical Examiner’s Office plans scale up their existing case management system to accommodate the caseload at the surge center.

“We are the last physicians these individuals will ever have and we take that responsibility very seriously,” said Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar. “We treat these patients with dignity and respect. We treat them the way we would want our loved ones to be treated.”

To download B roll of workers transforming the facility into the surge center, please click here.