Frontline Mortician Deals with the Dead, COVID Testing
By Dianne Anderson
Each day, Margo Malone goes into her frontline job in hazmat gear with a full face shield, mask, goggles, double gloved, and armed with cans of Lysol.
“I have become a Lysol junkie,” she said.
When COVID first hit, the bodies were coming in already masked, and double bagged, but lately, probably for lack of PPE, masks are absent. With Lysol, she takes all the necessary precautions, disinfecting the decedent’s eyes, nose, mouth, down the throat, whatever it takes to keep herself safe.
Until top health organizations can say with certainty that the virus is not a problem after death, she and others in her field are taking extreme precautions.
“We have to jostle the bodies around on the tables and move them from place to place, not knowing definitely if that virus is still doing damage. We have to be extremely careful,” she said.
Death is a career for Malone.
After all these decades as a mortician, and a frequent missionary with the Second Baptist Church Foreign Mission’s Project to parts of Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, there are usually few surprises.
She has seen her share of fallout from health disasters like HIV/AIDS. They were getting ready to host a mission trip to support an orphanage right before COVID hit last year, and it got shut down.
But she could hardly have imagined a day when morticians and morgues would be turning away so many bodies for lack of a cold room to hold them.
“The fact is that there have been so many deaths in the past several months, in the L.A. and Orange County area. You don’t have to be old to die from COVID, it’s 30’s and 40’s. That’s the part that’s been surprising,” she said.
Outward appearance also isn’t much of an indicator. Anyone with a pre-existing condition is susceptible to the virus, anyone with heart issues, lung or respiratory illnesses can cause death by COVID. It’s across the board.
At this point, she said they are not treating COVID patients that have been autopsied as the CDC and World Health Organization have not definitely stated the disease dies with the host. Typically, she would open the carotid artery and the jugular as the injection point for embalming, but not these days for COVID patients, if the body hasn’t been through the coroner first.
“We’re not supposed to because we don’t know how susceptible the virus is once it’s opened and hits the air,” she said
In Los Angeles County where she works, one-third of all residents are testing positive, she has turned away bodies as cases are now rampant. Morgues, like hospitals, are overwhelmed.
“LA County Coroners called our mortuary, they were asking if we had any room in our refrigeration unit because they were filled up. We’re like no sorry, we can’t help,” she said. “We are on overload on our refrigeration unit.”
This time last year, she had maybe one or two COVID cases a month. Today, most of the coolant is COVID dominant. The mortuary where she works is predominately African American cases, but they get a number of Latinos as well.
Testing is an essential first easy step that is widely available, and important to stop the spread because many people are presenting with no symptoms, yet they are infecting others. Now, recent variants of the virus are making it spread faster.
In many ways, it’s been frustrating for her to think that so much death could have been averted early on.
“In New York when it first hit they had bodies everywhere, we thought that was them. The last three months has really been a boom in the COVID cases we’ve come in contact with,” she said.
On February 28, COVID-19 testing is to be hosted at her church from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m in partnership with the Orange County Healthcare Agency. She will be one of the testers.
“This is a drive-through. Fill out your paperwork in the car, drive through and get tested and you get the results in 48 hours, but the catch is that we can only allocate testing for about 300 people,” she said.
She is asking people to have their insurance card, although the testing will be free. Test results will be issued online or they can call in.
“As we’re seeing, This thing is not going to taper off, we are seeing the crest of people that were playing around at Christmas and New Year,” she said. “Now you have a whole new hotbed of cases that will play out between now and June or July.”
For more information on the upcoming testing, see Second Baptist Church at https://sbc.family
or call (714) 741-0590