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Tampa Bay area crematories running out of space as COVID-19 rages

"I can handle...75-80 people in that cooler, and it's full, it's at capacity..." said funeral director TJ Cohen.

TAMPA, Fla — Crematories across the Tampa Bay area say they are running out of space and even having to buy new equipment to keep up with the growing number of deaths as the pandemic rages.

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"I have been in the process, all day, of trying to get like a tractor-trailer cooler for excess storage of handling deceased people," said TJ Cohen, funeral director at Cremations of greater Tampa Bay. "I have a very, very large cooler. I can handle, you know, 75-80 people in that cooler, and it's full. It’s at capacity."

Cohen says his days are packed meeting with families preparing to bury a loved one. "I've been in the same suit and tie...coming up on 50 hours now. It is very stressful," he said, adding sometimes he has to make house calls because those families are quarantined.

"They are home, you know, COVID-bound. They can't leave their house to come to me," he said.

Cohen is just one of many local funeral directors struggling to keep up with demand. In Clearwater, it's a similar situation at Veterans Funeral Care on Belcher Road.

"We have a 35-capacity cooler here...it has been full. We're working around the clock,” said Jim Rudolph, owner of Veterans Funeral Care.

As he pored over his records on Wednesday, he pointed out a big difference between the beginning of the pandemic and this year’s wave.

"They have been younger, much younger,” he said. “This year what we're hearing from our from our clients who we love...they're saying...'he just wouldn't take it serious,' you know, we're all vaccinated, but dad wasn't or my brother wasn't,' and their shock is different this time around, and I see some regret."

It’s regret these funeral directors say in most cases is preventable.

"I hear from numerous people out there that this is… possibly a hoax," said Cohen. "This is real."

Rudolph agrees.

"If you think you can't tell your friends that you got the vaccine, then don't tell them," he said. "This is not a hill you want to die on. Go get the vaccine."