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Kane Coroner gets refrigerated truck in preparation for more COVID-19 deaths

'It’s for overflow if we have this tsunami of death'

Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and Chief Deputy Coroner Loren Carrera look over a refrigerated trailer now parked outside the coroner's office in Geneva on April 6.
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell and Chief Deputy Coroner Loren Carrera look over a refrigerated trailer now parked outside the coroner's office in Geneva on April 6.

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GENEVA – A refrigerated truck capable of holding up to 40 bodies – without using shelving – has arrived at the Kane County Coroner’s office at the government center in Geneva in order to provide enough storage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kane County Coroner Rob Russell said the county has 20 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

“Basically, it’s for overflow if we have this tsunami of death that overwhelms funeral homes and hospitals,” Russell said. “I’m being part of the solution to be able to store the bodies. … We have 10 in the cooler from non-COVID deaths, but regular deaths are up as well as COVID. There are naysayers, people who say we’re ‘cooking’ the numbers. I think there are still people who don’t realize this is real.”

The state provided the 28-foot to 30-foot refrigerated truck that will hold 40 bodies laid out on the floor without adding shelving, he said.

There is an additional refrigerated truck available from Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin if necessary, Russell said, but he thinks the one already there will be sufficient.

While county officials recently approved building a $13.2 million new multi-use facility that includes a new coroner’s office and morgue, construction has not even started on that.

“It would be nice to have had that new facility,” Russell said. “People can’t trump me and say I didn’t ask sooner, because I did.”

County Board member Drew Frasz, R-Elburn, said he was glad the project is moving forward now.

In February 2019, Frasz had criticized Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen for delaying progress on getting a new coroner’s office and morgue.

“In the last six months, all we’ve gotten is obstruction and obstacles from the chairman,” Frasz had said then.

“In a different situation, it could have been started last fall and we could be putting the finishing touches on it right now and basically, be ready to go,” Frasz said. “In the fall of 2018, we could have been well under construction.”

Lauzen said he was not obstructing, but his role was working behind the scenes, particularly to put together a finance plan to build the new facility.

“I am delighted that all the interests – including taxpayer interests – were at the table for a year and half to make sure this was the most stringently reviewed capital project in the history of Kane County,” Lauzen said.

“And there will be – tragically – there will be many more opportunities over the next 100 years for them to play a role in taking care of the dead and comforting the families of those who passed away,” Lauzen said.

Meanwhile, deputy coroners are making do in the space they have at the current location.

Russell said they can’t really practice social distancing because there isn’t enough space.

“The office is not big enough, but we use reasonable means,” Russell said. “We’re taking temperatures twice a day, once when they come in and when they leave. If anybody is sick, I’m going to tell them to stay home. So far so good.”

Anyone who handles a COVID-19 death wears protective clothing such as a Tyvek suit, goggles, booties and N95 mask, “The whole works,” Russell said.

“There are a lot of conflicting reports that COVID is not contagious after death, based on reports for forensic pathologists,” Russell said. “I’m going to assume that it is.”

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