California funeral homes run out of space as COVID-19 rages


LOS ANGELES (AP) – As communities across the country feel the pain of an increase in coronavirus cases, funeral homes in the Southern California hot spot say they must turn away grieving families because they lack space for bodies that accumulate.

The head of the state funeral directors association said mortuaries were inundated as the United States neared a grim tally of 350,000 deaths from COVID-19. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“I’ve been in the funeral industry for 40 years and never in my life have I thought that this could happen, that I should say to a family, ‘No, we can’t take a member of your family'”, said Magda Maldonado, owner of Continental Funeral Home in Los Angeles.

Continental takes an average of about 30 bodily samples per day, which is six times its normal rate. Mortuary owners call each other to see if someone can handle the overflow, and the answer is always the same: they’re full, too.

In order to cope with the flood of bodies, Maldonado has rented additional 15-meter (50-foot) refrigerators for two of the four facilities she runs in Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Continental has also delayed pickups at hospitals for a day or two while dealing with residential customers.

Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association, said the whole process of burial and cremation of bodies has slowed down, including embalming bodies and obtaining death certificates. Normally, cremation can take place in a day or two; now it takes at least a week or more.

Achermann said that in the southern part of the state, “every funeral home I speak to says,” We are paddling as fast as we can. “”

“The volume is just amazing and they’re worried that they can’t keep up,” he said. “And the worst of the wave could still be ahead of us. “

Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the California crisis, alone has surpassed 10,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Nationally, just over 2,500 people on average have died from COVID-19 in the past seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The number of new cases reported daily during this period averaged around 195,000, down from two weeks earlier.

There are fears that holiday gatherings are fueling a further rise in cases.

Arkansas officials reported a record high of more than 4,300 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson tweeted that the state was “certainly booming after Christmas travel and gatherings” and added: “As we move into this new year, our first resolution should be to follow the guidelines.”

In Louisiana, a funeral was held on Saturday for an elected congressman who died of complications from COVID-19. Republican Luke Letlow died on Tuesday at the age of 41. His swearing-in was scheduled for Sunday. He is survived by his wife Julia Letlow and his two children aged 1 and 3.

In Texas, state officials say they have just 580 intensive care beds available as staff treat more than 12,480 hospital patients with coronavirus, a number that has grown steadily since September and hit records last week.

In Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation remained in the midst of a weekend lockdown to try to slow the rate of infection. As of Friday evening, the tribe reported seven more deaths, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic to 23,429 cases and 813 deaths. The reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

The number of infections is believed to be much higher than reported because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can get infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Arizona on Saturday reported 18,943 new cases on Friday and Saturday, a two-day record for the state. He also reported 46 new deaths on Saturday.

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