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'Absolutely devastating': City’s grim move as Covid deaths surge

The city of Los Angeles has been forced to take a sobering and unusual move as the Covid-19 deaths continue to mount.

A local government body that oversees air pollution controls has said it will temporarily suspend its measures to allow for more cremations due to a backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The LA county’s South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an “emergency order for crematoriums due to Covid-19” late on Sunday (local time).

A field hospital tent for Covid-19 patient triage stands outside the emergency department of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in California. Source: Getty
A field hospital tent for Covid-19 patient triage stands outside the emergency department of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in California. Source: Getty

“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,” it said in a statement.

“As of January 15 over 2,700 bodies are currently being stored at hospitals and the Coroner’s office” awaiting cremation.

As a consequence, it will lift the limit on the amount of human remains that can be cremated each month – a cap that is based on the potential impact the cremations will have on air quality.

The greater Los Angeles area has become the new epicentre of the pandemic in the US, which has by far the highest recorded death toll from Covid-19 at close to 400,000.

‘So sad’: People react to cremation decision

The latest news highlights the grim position the city of LA finds itself in as the pandemic worsens. Many online reacted in horror including the health reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Soumya Karlamangla.

“OMG [oh my God]. So many people have died in Los Angeles County that officials have temporarily suspended air-quality regulations that limit the number of cremations,” she wrote on Twitter.

There were thousands of responses to her tweet with one woman writing: “this is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard”.

“I’m so sorry. This is absolutely devastating. This is horrific,” another person wrote.

“That is so sad ... grateful to be alive,” another wrote.

On January 8, Los Angeles County said a person was dying every eight minutes from Covid-19, in the county that is home to 10 million people.

“Stay home to save lives, always wear a mask when out for essentials and avoid gathering with people you don't live with,” it urged residents.

California reaches 3 million Covid cases

At a state level, California became the first state in the US to reach three million confirmed Covid cases on Monday (local time), according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The grim milestone wasn’t entirely unexpected in a state with 40 million residents but its speed was stunning.

California only reached two million reported cases on Christmas Eve.

The count is also far ahead of other large states, such as Texas which had to use prison labour to move the dead bodies of Covid patients late last year.

Medical Director with a patient at a California hospital. Source: Getty Images
Medical Director of the Intensive Care Unit at a Californian hospital checks on a patient. Source: Getty Images

California also has seen more than 33,600 deaths due to Covid-19 with a caseload surge that has put hospitals under immense strain.

Although there’s been a slight downward trend, officials warn that could reverse when the full impact from holiday gathering transmissions is felt.

The three million milestone was surpassed the day after California’s state epidemiologist called for a halt to more than 300,000 coronavirus vaccinations using a Moderna vaccine version because some people received medical treatment for possible severe allergic reactions.

with AP

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