Temporary morgue set up near LA County coroner's office as COVID deaths soar

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A temporary morgue space was set up Friday near Los Angeles County coroner's office to help store bodies as COVID-19 continues to run rampant in the region.

The facility includes at least five 53-foot trailers supplied by the state, and five more supplied by the county, along with an unknown number of "ground refrigerated storage containers.''

AIR7 HD was over the area Friday morning as bodies were moved into temporary storage trailers that were put in place at the start of the pandemic.

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California officials announced plans to set up temporary morgue space at L.A. County coroner's office to help store bodies.



The county Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner explained to Eyewitness News the steps taken in preparation of a potential overwhelmed mortuary system.

"Early on in the pandemic, the DMEC took steps and developed plans to add to our facility's body storage capacity. Refrigerated storage additions were installed in the beginning of April. During normal operations, DMEC can store up to 500 bodies. With the additions, we can further hold 1500 bodies for a total of 2000."

Meanwhile, the county Department of Public Health announced another 218 deaths Thursday, the third consecutive day the number has topped 200. The new fatalities lifted the countywide death toll to 11,545. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the near-record number of 259 deaths on Tuesday was more than all of Los Angeles' homicides in 2019.

The rising number of fatalities has led to issues at some hospitals, which were running out of space to store bodies, particularly with overrun funeral homes unable to accept them. A California National Guard team was previously dispatched to the county coroner's office to assist with the management of the increasing deaths.

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"These next two or three weeks will define everything for us. Our own behavior will dictate everything that we do, even as we ramp up efforts on vaccination, on enforcement, looking at the orders that we have out there," said Garcetti. "Those things are critical, but 10 million people across L.A. County are an unstoppable force if we align our good actions together."

"It is important to know that there is a plan, it is under way, and it is active today,'' OES Director Mark Ghilarducci said. "We will continue to work at that with each of our 58 counties to ensure that all of these folks are taken care of in the most respectful manner.''

The county on Thursday also announced another 19,719 COVID-19 cases, pushing the countywide total since the pandemic began to 871,404.

The rate of people testing positive for the virus throughout the pandemic stood at 17%, but the current daily rate again exceeded that, at 20.4%. About 1 in 5 coronavirus tests performed daily in the county are coming back positive, officials say.

According to the state, there were 8,074 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19, a slight dip from Wednesday, with 1,635 in intensive
care. County Department of Health Services statistics showed a total of 552 beds available in the county's 70 911-receiving'' hospitals, including just 34 adult ICU beds.

The county's 70 "911-receiving'' hospitals with emergency rooms have a total licensed capacity of about 2,500 ICU beds, although in recent weeks they have implemented surge plans and staffed a daily average of about 3,000 ICU beds.

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Given the rising case and hospitalization numbers -- which health officials have warned will worsen thanks to Christmas and New Year's gatherings -- the Department of Public Health issued another warning Thursday for businesses to ensure they are fully complying with infection-control measures.

"Everyone in L.A. County, businesses and residents, needs to follow the rules if there is any chance we can get out of this surge by the end of the month,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "Every day we report a large number of people newly infected with COVID-19, it is like a reset on the clock for when we can get back to our recovery journey. I implore everyone to stay home as much as possible.

"Shopping for anything except food and medicine and mingling with others are activities we all need to stop doing for the next few weeks as it increases risk. There are just too many people spreading the virus, too many people sick and hospitalized and each person that dies is one too many.''

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County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Wednesday hospitals continue to be slammed with COVID patients.

"The number of new patients with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization each day in Los Angeles County has increased markedly in the past few weeks, but it's now appearing to level off somewhat,'' she said. "This likely reflects relatively less transmission in a period after Thanksgiving and the first couple of weeks of December.''

But she warned that leveling off is not a cause for celebration, noting that hospitals will soon begin seeing an anticipated swell of patients caused by gatherings over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

"If that transmission did increase over Christmas and New Year's, we'll start to see those hospitalizations and case counts rise, and that (transmission rate) is really actually much higher. And that flattening of the number of the new hospitalizations really should not be interpreted ... that transmission and spread is stopping.''

The California Department of Public Health issued a new public health order Tuesday that requires some non-essential and non-life-threatening surgeries to be delayed in counties that have an ICU capacity of 10% or less and that are located in a region with an overall adjusted 0% capacity. That includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Imperial and San Bernardino counties.

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As L.A. County faces a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19, health officials say one in every four or five people who are tested are positive for the virus.



City News Service contributed to this report.
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