Temporary morgue set up at former Fitchburg State University ice rink as part of contingency plan

FITCHBURG, Mass. — A temporary mortuary center is being set up at the Landry Arena in Fitchburg to prepare for the possibility of more COVID-19-related deaths in the state.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had reported a total of 122 people so far have died from the virus.

The former ice rink at the Landry Arena, which Fitchburg State University officials say was removed years ago, is now the site of a temporary morgue set up by the state amid growing concerns with the global pandemic.

Both Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale and other state officials emphasize the staging area poses no risk to the public or personnel. A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Boston 25 News that, if this temporary morgue is needed in the future, remains will be contained within trucks that now parked on site, in a way that’s safe to this community and sensitive to families.

“In the face of an unprecedented crisis, the city of Fitchburg and Fitchburg State University have an opportunity to contribute to the Commonwealth’s response," said DiNatale.

In the plan to prepare for the potential of an increase in deaths related to the virus as numbers continue to climb, the first step is to create temporary mortuary services, which includes five refrigerated state trucks, now in place at the Landry Arena.

“This temporary facility will provide increased short term capacity for cities towns and medical facilities if necessary in the event of an increase in decedents or decrease in the mortuary work force," said DiNatale.

Families who lose loved ones during the pandemic aren’t able to hold funeral services for their loved ones as gatherings have been banned during the quarantine in efforts to flatted the curve of the virus.

According to DiNatale, the location had previously been identified by MEMA officials as an ideal area for staging emergency operations.

The CDC has recommended setting up temporary morgues and, in places like New York, they’ve already been set up to deal with the crisis.

“The staging area will if necessary act as a bridge between health care facilities and funeral homes and crematories," said DiNatale. “This will allow mortuary service providers to keep their services operating in a way that’s safe for staff and respectful of each decedent.”

The Massachusetts’ Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says it currently has sufficient capacity to handle the current number of deceased people, but is planning ahead to ensure sanitary hospital conditions and uninterrupted mortuary services. A spokesperson told Boston 25 News, in part:

“While OCME currently has sufficient capacity for its needs, our contingency plans include supporting the continued operation of mortuary services by providing increased short-term capacity for cities, towns, and medical facilities if necessary. We are grateful to Mayor DiNatale and Fitchburg State University for making this space available to ensure that mortuary services are uninterrupted and remain safe for the community and sensitive to families.”

State officials say the amount of people staffed at this center would depend on how much use it gets.

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