Morgues in Santa Clara County are almost at full capacity, health leaders said on Tuesday.
Already three local morgues can no longer store bodies, and four others are nearly full.
To address the shortage of space, the county has brought in three refrigerated trailers that can hold up to 60 bodies. Two trailers are located at the county medical examiner’s office and the other is at Bay Area Mortuary Services in San Jose.
The sobering news comes as the county faces increased COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Of the county’s total 85,929 cases, 1,269 were from the last several days as of Wednesday. There were also 43 new deaths, bringing the county’s death tally up to 986, according to the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard.
The death count may also be undercounted, the dashboard notes, because the high number of deaths under investigation can lead to delays in reporting.
And more cases means more hospitalizations, and subsequently less capacity at local hospitals. Currently there are 695 residents hospitalized because of COVID-19, 77 of which are from the last few days.
Intensive care unit capacity in the county is at 7 percent, including all surge beds, as of Tuesday, according to the county’s health department.
“As the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU has increased, it has squeezed out non-COVID-19 patients,” county Director of Health Care Preparedness Dr. Ahmad Kamal said at the county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. “What this squeezing out means is that patients with other medical conditions which are quite serious … are not in the ICU.”
COVID-19 patients account for more than half of ICU beds, which forces out those without the virus to receive lower quality care, and those with non-emergency health problems to be deferred.
This means the county is “incurring a debt,” Kamal said.
“We will be paying off this debt for months and years to come because these people are going to get sicker and their needs are going to increase. They’re not going to go away,” he continued.
But health officials are not giving up hope just yet, and instead have declared a lofty goal to get 85 percent of the county’s eligible population (1.5 million people) vaccinated by Aug. 1.
Eligible individuals are those over the age of 16 — the cutoff for the Pfizer vaccine. That means the county needs to administer 13,000 every single day until the beginning of August.
Already, the county is far below the goal, with only 52,216 people receiving vaccine shots as of Tuesday. That is less than half of the county’s total available vaccines of 110,000 doses.
The county’s testing officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib told county supervisors on Tuesday that the Aug. 1 goal will be difficult but not impossible.
“It is dependent on vaccine availability and that nothing else goes wrong,” Fenstersheib said.
He said changing guidelines at state and federal levels could be a potential barrier, as well as incomplete vaccination data from local entities in the county and future vaccine availability.
County supervisors unanimously voted to send a letter to the state asking for more vaccines and County Executive Jeff Smith said health officials put in a request in the last week for 100,000 more doses. The county has since received an additional 6,000, Smith said.
“We’re the sixth-biggest county [in the state], we should be getting the sixth-most vaccines,” new board president Supervisor Mike Wasserman said. “Give doses to Santa Clara County because we know what we’re doing. We’ve proven that and we’re ready to go.”
More vaccine information is available at sccfreevax.org.