SoCal mortuaries, funeral homes feeling impact of pandemic as death toll rises

FONTANA, Calif. (KABC) -- As the death toll from the pandemic rises, including a record 145 coronavirus deaths reported in L.A. County alone Wednesday, the available space at local mortuaries is shrinking rapidly.

Mortuaries are reporting being at or near capacity as COVID-19 claims more and more lives in Southern California.

"We are at our capacity as of right now," said Mark McKay, the CEO and Director of Operations at McKay's Family Funeral Home Inc.

McKay says one refrigerated unit, which has the capacity to hold 54 cases, has been delivered to their Fontana location.

"The Fontana location, as of right now, we're at 17 (deceased) and eight of them are COVID-19 (victims) that we picked up last night," McKay added.

The family-owned businesses has four locations, including in the South Bay, Riverside and Victorville.

McKay said they've doubled their capacity in the past few weeks as coronavirus deaths in the state have hit record numbers.

"We're trying to accommodate the families," said McKay. "A lot of families, several families, have been turned away but we're trying not to turn anyone out."

He said medical authorities are overwhelmed so there are delays in getting death certificates signed and processed, which are needed in order to provide the permits for mortuaries to perform burials or cremations.

At family-owned White Emerson Mortuary in Whittier, the managing director Paul White said they're nearing capacity.

"As we watch the number of decedents that we care for who have COVID, we're noticing that it's about 30% of the families that we are currently serving," said White.

White said other funeral homes have contacted them over the last couple of days to see if they can assist them with storage.

White says unfortunately they're unable to help with no prior agreement in place and for peace of mind of the family.

Funeral homes are making special accommodations during the pandemic, including physical distancing at funeral services. To follow strict health guidelines, services are held outside beneath a tent.

"We're only allowing 35 to come in, immediate family, and if you are infected with COVID, we will offer a Zoom service for you, where you can stay home and watch the services from your home," said McKay.

White said while the death rate is up, not everyone they see is dying from the virus, but some are passing away from stress and pressure caused by the pandemic.

"This is real stuff and it's impacting people and families in a devastating way," said White.
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