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COVID-Caused Backlog Forces Southland Air Quality Agency To Suspend Cremation Limits

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The lack of storage space for those who have died of the coronavirus forced the agency which regulates air quality across the Southland to issue an emergency order Sunday night lifting the limit on the number of cremations allowed.

Some hospitals are using portable morgues due to the surge in COVID-19 deaths.
This is one of three refrigerated containers that may be used as temporary morgues on the campus of Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. (Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) issued the emergency order temporarily suspending permit requirements for crematoriums.

The order was issued at the request of both the Los Angeles County coroner's office and the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

AQMD limits the number of cremations which can be conducted each month due to air quality regulations. However, the pandemic has caused the death rate across the region to more than double, which has put a strain on hospitals, funeral homes and crematoriums, the agency reported.

As of Jan. 15, more than 2,700 bodies are stored at both hospitals and the coroner's office, according to the order. Several mobile morgues were set up earlier this month outside the coroner's office.

"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," AQMD said in a news release Sunday. "The L.A. County Medical-Examiner 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 will be in effect for at least 10 days.

Through Sunday, L.A. County has reported 1,014,662 coronavirus cases and 13,848 deaths from the disease. According to the latest state numbers Monday, 7,328 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus in L.A. County. 23% of whom are in ICU beds.

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