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California is struggling to preserve the bodies of COVID-19 victims

With the morgue of hospitals overloaded with a growing number of bodies amid rising COVID-19 deaths, affected parts of California are struggling to preserve the bodies of the dead.

The Los Angeles County Jurors’ Office is stepping up efforts to temporarily store corpses as the number of local victims reaches record levels.

This week, six members of the California National Guard arrived to help county workers transfer bodies from applications to the hospital in 12 cold storage rooms parked in the forensic doctor̵

7;s office, said Sarah Ardalani, an office spokeswoman. Additional assistants from the National Guard are expected to arrive next week.

Last spring, the forensic doctors’ office had predicted an increase in the death toll and at least quadrupled its storage capacity to at least 2,000 bodies. by introducing the 12 refrigerated trailers, according to Ardalani. There are also additional trailers that can hold about 25 bodies.

As of Monday, the forensic doctor’s office contained 757 bodies.
At the end of November, the beginning of the latest COVID-19 jump, the containers contained only about 60 bodies.

Then the rate of deaths began to increase. In early December, about 30 people died each day; by Friday, the seven-day average was about 190 people a day.

As of December 1, more than 4,200 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported, a staggering number in just a few weeks. The cumulative death toll in Los Angeles County from the disease is 11,872.

In the last four days alone, an average of 250 COVID-19 deaths per day have been reported in Los Angeles County. This is higher than the average number of daily deaths from all other causes combined, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, car accidents, suicides and homicides, which is about 170.

Hospital morgues are overcrowded because funeral homes and private morgues are so full that families have to be diverted. The open spaces in the hospital morgue are being quickly replaced by new bodies.

To prepare for the wave, the California Gov. Emergency Service is preparing to send 88 refrigerated trailers around the state to replenish the morgue. Ten have already been sent to Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Imperial, Monterey and Sonoma counties.

The remaining 77 trailers donated by the Illinois-based Hub Group need to be upgraded with shelves to double their capacity. Cal-OES said it has a plan to set up an additional temporary morgue on the district investigator’s campus, with at least five trailers delivered by Cal-OES and five more provided by LA County.

These resources will help “ensure that we do not receive large backups, or if we have backups, they are handled [with] respect and dignity [and] that we have the appropriate equipment or materials that investigators and medical experts need to deal effectively with heirs, ”said Cal-OES Director Mark Gilarducci in a statement.

Funeral homes in Fresno County are also under pressure. The morgues had to figure out ways to maximize the storage space for the growing number of dead, Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said on Tuesday, and mobile refrigeration devices are being introduced.

“This is a mass casualty, a mass death event that our county is going through. And we had to expand the dead body storage areas here in Fresno County, out of the ordinary, ”Vohra said.

How much extra space the county will ultimately need depends on how quickly funeral homes and morgues can process corpses, Vohra said.

“It will take this whole ecosystem to try to figure out how best to work through this really large number of bodies to take care of,” Vohra said. “I’m glad these two trucks are coming and I hope we don’t need them.”

Times Phi Do staff writer contributed to this report.

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