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Many Idaho funeral homes run low on space as COVID-19 deaths surge

At least one Boise-area funeral service provider has brought in a refrigerated trailer to increase storage capacity.

BOISE, Idaho — The rising death toll from COVID-related complications is impacting funeral homes and wait times for cremation services.

Cloverdale Funeral Home in Boise shipped in a refrigerated trailer to store some bodies. The funeral home can hold 16 bodies inside its regular refrigeration facility, but the need is much greater. The additional refrigerated trailer can hold up to 50 bodies.

The extra storage was brought in so bodies can be preserved until cremation services become available.

“Once it became available -- and we brought it up about two weeks ago now -- and got it ready, and it was needed immediately,” said Dave Salove, Managing Partner at the Cloverdale Funeral Home and Cremation. “In 47 years, I have never experienced anything like this.”

During the month of September, Salove recorded 28 deaths due to COVID. In any given September, the normal death toll would be around 50 at the funeral home. This month alone, it was 80.

In the state of Idaho, 220 people died from COVID in August. In September, that number nearly doubled -- to 401 deaths in one month.

“We have had people as young as in their 20s -- and there's sometimes health circumstances, but there have been times that there wasn't, so it’s hard to tell exactly who's safe from it," Salove said. "I don't think anyone really is, you know?”

Salove said cremation is 70 percent of Cloverdale's services. Typically cremation services can take up to five days, but because of increased deaths, families are waiting up to 15 days to get their loved one back. Refrigerated storage is needed during the wait time.

Salove said a single cremation can take anywhere from two to three hours.

“We have just one crematory here on our facility and we can do as many as five or six cremations a day, but given the volume that there is, it still takes time to accomplish that,” he said. “We have to have permits and the death certificates signed. The doctors are very, very busy at the hospitals, and they have been very great at getting those things out, but sometimes it's two or three or five days before they can get back to paperwork. That just prolongs things on our end before we are able to do things as well.”

While no grieving process is easy, Salove said, the process feels different when loved ones lose someone to the virus.

“It’s one thing to lose someone in an accident or if they have had a long cancer death or something like that, but this is just something that most people aren't planning on, they are not figuring on," Salove said. "Even though we have been talking about it for a couple of years now and dealing with it for a couple of years, they're still just not ready for it at the time.”

Salove said in December of last year, many people had their loved ones embalmed instead of waiting for cremations, but that is no longer the case. He added, that the last thing he wants to see is the refrigerator trailer fill up.

“If we see that trailer fill up, I think that we are going to see a lot of other things change around the area," Salove said. "I know that the governor is hesitant to go back to any mandate of any kind, but when the death rate reaches extreme levels, something else has to change.”

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