State Prepares for Surge of COVID-19 Decedents, Working with Crematoriums and Embalmers

As California continues to reel from the rise in COVID-19-related fatalities, the state seeks new mitigating measures to address the backlog of decedents.

Crematoriums in Southern California

On January 17, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD) issued an Emergency Order (Order) to temporarily suspend certain permit conditions for crematories in Los Angeles County to assist with the backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. South Coast AQMD permits for crematoriums contain limits on the number of human remains that may be cremated each month, based on potential air quality impacts. The current rate of death is more than double that of pre-pandemic years, leading to hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums exceeding capacity without the ability to process the backlog of cases. The Los Angeles County Medical-Examiner Coroner (ME-Coroner) and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have requested that South Coast AQMD suspend limits on cremations in order to protect public health and to respond to the current emergency. The Order applies to crematories in Los Angeles County and other facilities that have an agreement with the ME-Coroner. All other terms and conditions of the permit and other air quality rule requirements will remain in effect. Learn more about the Order here.

California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Law Enforcement Chief Mark Pazin on the Lifting of Restrictions on Los Angeles County Crematories:

Embalmers

To assist with the backlog of COVID-19 decedents, the state is also actively working with neighboring states to secure much-needed assets, including licensed embalmers. One out-of-state embalmer has already been deployed to the Southern California region, and more are on the way.

Chief Mark Pazin on Out-of-State Embalmers Deployed to California:

State Multi-Casualty and Coroner Mutual Aid Plans

Cal OES has activated the State Multi-Casualty Plan and the Coroner Mutual Aid Plan. The State Multi-Casualty Plan is a mass fatality management plan run through the division of law enforcement addressing the needs affecting hospital operations. The Coroner Mutual Aid Plan, which is designed to provide mutual aid to county coroners and will address the increased storage needed to mitigate the bottleneck caused by a surge in fatalities. Learn more about both plans here.

Chief Mark Pazin on Mutual Aid Plans and Distribution of Refrigerated Trucks:

Refrigerated Trailers

In addition, Cal OES has already facilitated the distribution of 108 refrigerated trailers, in response to requests by county officials. 30 of those trailers have been leased by Cal OES and are specifically designed to serve as temporary morgues. The remaining 78 trailers were donated by the Hub Group, an Illinois-based company, to counties and hospitals within the State of California, whose distribution has been mediated by Cal OES. Learn more about the plans here.

Chief Mark Pazin Provides an Update on Refrigerated Trailers:

 

Alyson Hanner

Alyson Hanner joined the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) in 2020 after working nearly 20 years in the broadcast news industry. Since joining Cal OES, she has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the historic 2020 wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she served as managing editor at local television stations in San Diego and Sacramento.

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