SPRINGFIELD — Illinois has rented a fleet of refrigerated semi-truck trailers to store the bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients in case morgues become filled to capacity, according to a spokesperson for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.


The “more than 20” trailers rented by the state thus far are “part of the state’s response to expand mortuary capacity,” IEMA spokesperson Rebecca Clark said in an email.


“These structures are being retrofitted for medical examiners throughout the state should a need arise,” she said.


Clark said 12 counties – Bureau, Champaign, Hamilton, Kane, Kankakee, LaSalle, Lee, Piatt, Wayne, Whiteside, Will and Williamson – have requested trailers be “pre-positioned in the event there is a need.”


“Pre-positioning resources is a common practice in emergency management to ensure an entity is prepared to respond to a potential need,” she added.


The state rented at least 10 trailers from Cooling Concepts LLC, located in Belleville, according to a Tuesday invoice published on the comptroller’s office’s running total of state COVID-19-related expenditures. The invoice of $29,137.02 is for the “rental of 10 refrigerator trailers for COVID-19 response.”


Don White, Vice President of Business Development at Cooling Concepts, said in an email that the privacy policy built into all of the company’s contracts prevents it from disclosing information on the matter. He added that Cooling Concepts “specializes in equipment for food delivery, food storage, and pharmaceutical delivery, and pharmaceutical storage.”


Cook County, which had recorded 1,142 of the state’s 1,688 COVID-19 deaths as of Thursday, already has refrigerated trailers of its own. An April 9 news release said the county acquired 14 refrigerated trailers and was in the process of securing six more to support a refrigerated warehouse that can hold more than 2,000 decedents.


Cook County’s trailers will be pre-positioned at hospitals experiencing surges so their morgues are not overwhelmed, according to the release.


“We do not anticipate needing any space beyond what we have already acquired,” said Natalia Derevyanny, a county spokesperson.


Refrigerated trailers have been used by hospitals in states such as New York, Massachusetts and Tennessee as overflow morgue capacity.


As of Thursday, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data, Will County has recorded Illinois’ second-most total deaths from COVID-19 with 119, followed by DuPage County with 118 and Lake County with 100. Remaining counties have recorded fewer than 40 each.


A model released by Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration on Thursday shows peak deaths are projected to be between 50 and 150 per day from now through the first week in May. Over the past week, Illinois has twice seen 125 deaths in a day, its largest daily increase. Thursday’s reported death toll was 123.