Los Angeles County is scheduled to receive additional refrigerated containers to hold bodies due to an overload at hospitals and morgues caused by a spike in deaths related to COVID-19.
As the most populous county in the U.S., Los Angeles has an average of a little more than 60,000 deaths every year, or over 1,100 deaths per week. Since last March, 11,000 people in the county have died with COVID-19, although not all died due to complications from the virus itself.
The spike in cases over the past few months has lead to a strain on the local funeral home system, which is struggling to embalm and schedule services for a larger-than-average number of deaths.
"When you're having the influx of these death numbers, we just don't have the amount of storage space," said Kimberly Worl, president of the Orange County Funeral Directors Association. "We don't have enough embalmers. We don't have enough funeral directors to take care of everyone."
The L.A. Medical Examiner Coroner's Office has a capacity of 500, but is currently holding around 900 bodies. Around 150 of these are from local hospitals that have run out of room in their facilities.
Officials say they have sourced a dozen more refrigerated trailers – adding to the 12 that have been onsite since last spring – that will arrive by next week. Six refrigerated shipping containers are also arriving, which can each hold around 50 bodies.
This additional capacity will provide needed storage for bodies while the local funeral industry works to address the increased need for their services.
The National Guard is assisting with transporting and storing the bodies.
Authorities are concerned that the limited number of available ICU beds will lead to a further increase in deaths, although both positivity rates and hospitalizations have fallen in both Los Angeles and California as a whole over the last week as more people build immunity to the virus or are immunized.
L.A.'s Dodger Stadium is also being set up as a mass vaccination center, which will greatly increase the number of vaccines being distributed in the area.