Spain is currently struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. As of press time, the country has over 40,000 confirmed cases and 2,991 deaths. Their death toll just jumped by 514 in a single day – a 19 percent spike in deaths. (Related: Coronavirus deaths in Spain surge 30% in a single day.)
In response to the pandemic, the Spanish government has deployed its armed forces to supplement the rest of its frontline workers. They were sent to disinfect nursing homes across the country. During their operations, they reported several instances of finding older residents and elderly people abandoned – "…with some even having died in their beds," said Maria Margarita Robles Fernandez, Spain's Minister of Defense.
In normal circumstances, bodies of those who die in nursing homes are put in cold storage while they await collection by funeral services. Now, however, if the cause of death is believed to be COVID-19, workers in nursing homes are instructed to simply leave the bodies alone until they can be collected by the proper personnel.
In several elderly homes, working conditions have gotten so bad that many have walked out on the job in protest. Many say they are working in very dangerous conditions, especially since nursing home workers aren't being given protective equipment and funeral services are taking 24 hours before they show up.
Jose Manuel Ramirez, president of the Association of Social Services Directors and Managers, defended the actions of nursing home workers. He stated that Fernandez' statements were "unfortunate" and that nursing home workers are "putting themselves on the line, without resources, without healthcare support, without protective gear," which is why they are being forced to walk out of the job rather than stay and risk infection themselves.
Because conditions have gotten so bad, Spanish prosecutors have launched an investigation into the working conditions in nursing homes.
In Spain's capital of Madrid, the situation is so bad that the region alone has more than 12,000 cases and 1,500 coronavirus-related deaths. In a letter to the Ministry of Health, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, mayor of Madrid, said that funeral services in the city had to be suspended starting Monday because morticians in the city didn't have enough personal protective equipment to safely do their job.
The bodies have begun piling up so high that the Palacio del Hielo, an indoor ice rink, has been converted into a temporary morgue. A draft report assessing whether or not the Palacio could be used in case of an emergency stated that the ice rink had "the necessary cold conditions to preserve the bodies."
Several hotels in Madrid have also been temporarily procured by the Spanish government, including the 359-room Gran Hotel Colon, which is a 10-minute walk from a hospital. The local government also took control over the 869-room Marriot Auditorium, a four-star hotel. A total of 40 hotels in Madrid, amounting to around 9,000 beds, have offered their services to regional authorities to treat people.
The hotels will house patients "whose symptoms require medical attention without the need to be hospitalized, both at the start of the disease as well as during the final phase," said the regional government of Madrid in a statement. Both the Gran Hotel Colon and the Marriot Auditorium have been in use as makeshift hospitals since Thursday.
To help ease the burden of both health and funeral workers, the Spanish army has begun transporting both patients and dead bodies to these emergency facilities.
However, the number of cases in Spain continues to rise at an alarming rate, and there's no telling when the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic will slow down.