The Slatest

So Many People Are Dying of COVID-19 That L.A. County Suspended Cremation Limits

Boyd opens a cabinet holding body bags
Candy Boyd, owner of Boyd Funeral Home in Los Angeles, on Thursday. This cabinet for embalmed bodies was specially built to accommodate the surge in COVID-19 deaths. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

In a move that helps to put into perspective just how many people are dying of COVID-19, the Los Angles County air quality regulator has decided to temporarily suspend limits on cremations in order to get through an existing backlog. Permits for crematoriums contain limits on the number of bodies that can be cremated each month to protect air quality. But those limits are now largely going out the window at least for 10 days, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said. The duration of the order can be extended if it’s deemed necessary.

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The decision was made after requests by the L.A. County coroner and Department of Public Health to temporarily suspend the limits, in part because the backlog is a threat to public health. In announcing the suspension, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said that the current rate of death “is more than double that of pre-pandemic years,” leading to funeral homes and crematoriums that are running at excess capacity. As of Jan. 15, more than 2,700 bodies were being stored in hospitals and the coroner’s office, according to the emergency order lifting the limits. Things are unlikely to get better in the near future. The emergency order lifting the limits notes that the agency expects “another surge” soon as a result of the holidays, “since deaths tend to occur 4–6 weeks after gatherings.” Now crematoriums can exceed their previous capacity if they notify the agency and fulfill certain requirements.

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So many people are dying in Los Angeles County that some funeral homes and cemeteries are turning people away. Even the nation’s largest cemetery is having trouble keeping up. The Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, California, recently said that the burial process at its 2,500-acre facility, which usually takes five to seven days, is now taking more than a month. Some people say they’ve had to wait on hold for hours to even reach someone at the cemetery.

News of the suspension of the limits comes as Los Angeles County surpassed a million total reported infections. As of Sunday, the county had reported 1,014,662 COVID-19 cases and 13,848 deaths. Earlier this month, the county said that a person was dying of the virus every eight minutes.

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