I see that mobile morgues are being prepared for potential COVID deaths. Will those bodies make it to the crematory, or do they go into a mass grave somewhere? My grandmother died in the 1918 flu, and nobody knows what happened to her body. —Patrick S.
Nothing like a dose of holiday cheer, eh, Patrick? As you point out, authorities in many cities have begun to line up refrigerated semi trailers—maybe even the one that brought your Thanksgiving turkey to the store!—to be used as temporary morgues if and when coronavirus deaths get (more) out of hand.
That's pretty grim. However, there are reasons to believe this pandemic's "bring out your dead" phase won't be quite as grisly as the mortal-coil shuffle your grandma got lost in.
For starters, we have refrigerated semi trailers, which afford us the luxury of two weeks or more to figure out what to do with a body. Those dealing with the dead in 1918 weren't so lucky. No doubt they felt considerable pressure to get the departed into a box as quickly as possible and worry about the details later.
As for mass graves, I couldn't find any evidence that such a thing has been planned in Oregon. New York City did announce in July it might have to employ mass graves for COVID victims if the then-mounting death rate rose high enough to make it necessary (it didn't).
Even if that exigency had come to pass, though, the mass burial was to have been only temporary. When the pandemic was over, those people would have been exhumed and returned to their next of kin, not lost forever.
There is, however, one way in which the COVID pandemic may yet outstrip its predecessor: U.S. numbers.
Sure, the Spanish flu ended up claiming an estimated 675,000 American lives, while the national death toll from La Rona has only ("only") reached 257,000.
But that 675K was a scant 1.3% of the world total. This time, our body count of 258K (it went up while I was typing) is a dominant 18% of all COVID deaths planetwide! Nobody can carry our jock when it comes to mismanaging a public health emergency. USA! USA! USA!
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