Cagayan de Oro’s COVID-19 interagency task force on Monday, September 6, called on the Department of Health (DOH) to stop hospitals from putting all the belongings of patients who died of the virus in cadaver bags so these would not be included in the cremations.
“If they want this to stop, then the DOH should issue a memo to these hospitals,” said Engineer Armen Cuenca, head of the local task force’s management of the dead cluster.
It was Cuenca who first disclosed last week that the personal effects of patients who died of COVID-19 were among the things being burned in the city’s crematoria, along with the bodies and cadaver bags.
“All the hospitals, public and private, are doing that in Cagayan de Oro. Blankets, cellphones, laptops…everything brought by the patients…everything is being placed inside the bags along with the bodies. I will not be surprised if the same thing is happening all over the country,” Cuenca told Rappler.
Ritchie Naong, manager of the crematorium of the Divine Shepherd Funeral Homes, said they were left with no choice but to include everything in the cremations.
“We can’t assure the public that we will stop burning these. We cannot open the bags. Once these are inside, all these are included in the cremations. If we open the body bags, our workers will get sick and we will lose our people one by one,” Naong said.
Divine Shepherd’s crematorium in Barangay Bulua resumed operations on Monday morning, days after it shut operations to undertake repairs, owing to air pollution complaints it faced.
But Cuenca said he doubted if the repairs would completely stop the air pollution for now.
Cuenca said the body bags and other synthetic plastic-based personal effects included in the cremations contributed to the thick black smoke coming out of the crematorium’s smokestack.
He said the DOH has made it very clear that under no circumstance should the cadaver bags be opened.
Lawyer Abbas Lao of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Northern Mindanao said the complaints have reached them and they were concerned about how the cremations were affecting the environment.
But given the pandemic situation, Lao said, the DOH should look into the problem, and see what can be done.
Like the hospitals, the city’s two crematoria have been overwhelmed by the death toll.
Cuenca said some were bodies from other places in Northern Mindanao.
Divine Shepherd resumed its crematorium operations, but declined to accept more bodies to avoid being overwhelmed.
The other crematorium, owned by Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes, stopped operations on Sunday, September 5, after its machine bogged down.
Cuenca said nine bodies from Cosmopolitan had to be sent to Divine Shepherd for cremation.
Thomas Rey Sorronda, Cosmopolitan crematorium manager, told Magnum Radio, “We don’t know when we can resume our operations yet. The bodies were just too many for us to handle.”
Cuenca said the crematorium’s machine started showing signs of wear and tear last month and has just been repaired. This weekend, its machine bogged down and its wirings were toasted.
Each of the two crematoria has an ideal capacity of eight bodies a day, but they have been processing an average of 10 bodies daily because of the increasing COVID-19 deaths.
“We had 15 bodies in a single day just this weekend,” said Sorronda.
He said Divine Shepherd alone cremated 328 bodies, including personal belongings, in August, or about 73% more than its ideal monthly capacity of 240.
Councilor George Goking said the city was in a “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation.” – Rappler.com