Shipping containers to store bodies of COVID-19 victims headed to SoCal

ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- Refrigerated shipping containers are on their way to Southern California to store the bodies of people who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

According to Jake Knotts, co-owner and managing director of Mid-State Containers, 10 of his units were on their way to San Bernardino County on Tuesday. Another 10 were heading to Texas.

"This is definitely the first time we've ever seen containers being rented and outfitted to store the deceased and it's really, really strange," Knotts said.

Knotts said he usually leases them to breweries, wineries, restaurants and agriculture. When shelves are added, each will be able to hold the bodies of 50 people who have passed from COVID-19.

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"We're expecting quite a few containers to be going out into Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside and San Bernardino," Knotts said.

Kimberly Worl, president of the OC Funeral Directors Association, said on Tuesday their 35 members were seeing a backlog in the industry because so many people are dying so fast.

"We've never seen anything like this before," Worl said.

Worl has seen chapels turned into storage for embalmed bodies. She said funeral home directors throughout OC were seeking recommendations for additional cold storage.

"When you're having the influx of these death numbers, we just don't have the amount of storage space. We don't have enough embalmers. We don't have enough funeral directors to take care of everyone," Worl said.

The OC Coroner's Office confirmed Monday, staff were seeing a significant increase in decedents who tested positive for COVID-19 and issued the following statement:

Since March 2020, the Orange County Coroner's office has routinely tested decedents who met certain criteria for the COVID-19 virus. The Coroner's office has recently seen a significant increase in decedents who tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, the Orange County Coroner's office recently began accepting decedents from local hospitals to assist with overflow. The Orange County Coroner's office is prepared to meet the demand that the COVID-19 virus has created.

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Oxygen and the medical supplies associated with it are hard to come by in parts of Southern California and some hospital administrators worry they'll have to choose which patients get these resources during the next COVID-19 surge.

A sergeant with the OC Sheriff's Department told Eyewitness News Monday, the Coroner's Office was nearing capacity for inside storage, but was prepared to meet the demand with additional external units.

"I don't think there are enough refrigerated containers available in the nation. There's a shortage right now of containers, in general, and really, if hospitals and mortuaries drag their feet, there's a strong likelihood that there's not gonna be very many units available, you know, a month or two from now," Knotts said.

In Brea, Todd Beckley, president of Memory Garden Memorial Park and Mortuary, said his three Southern California locations were at capacity, but he didn't plan to lease additional storage.

"I know there are some funeral homes that have put 75-foot trailers in their parking lots, and the difficulty you have when you do that is you're accepting more and more remains, but the length of time that the family is going to have to wait in order to have those funeral services even gets greater, and my feeling was that the family if they don't want to wait two weeks then they should have the ability of calling another funeral home where they can be served at an earlier time," Beckley said.

Worl confirmed Tuesday, she knew of four funeral homes in Orange County who have trailers or containers on their properties.
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