Cremation limit lifted in LA County amid rising Covid-19 death toll

By Alex Segura Lozano

Los Angeles, Jan 22 (efe-epa).- Air quality officials in hard-hit Southern California have responded to a backlog of Covid-19 bodies at crematoriums and hospitals by temporarily suspending a monthly limit on cremations in Los Angeles County.

“In Los Angeles, there are so many Covid deaths, and the backlog of dead bodies is so high, that they actually lifted the air restrictions on cremations,” Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said in an interview with Efe.

“So crematoriums were previously limited in how many cremations they could do, but because of the number of dead bodies from Covid deaths piling up they’re actually lifting that and allowing crematoriums to cremate much more. That’s just a sign of how bad the situation is.”

Out of the roughly 14,000 Covid-19 deaths in Los Angeles County dating back to the onset of the pandemic, more than 4,000 have occurred since Jan. 1.

To ease the current backlog of corpses, the South Coast Air Quality Management District said in a press release Sunday that it issued an emergency order lifting its restriction on the “number of human remains that may be cremated each month, based on potential air quality impacts.”

It said it acted on a request from the Los Angeles County Medical-Examiner Coroner and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which asked the South Coast AQMD “to suspend limits on cremations in order to protect public health and respond to the current emergency.”

“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 air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties added.

According to an analysis published this week by Los Angeles County Health Services, the probability that a person hospitalized for Covid-19 will die in Los Angeles County has doubled over the past few months.

Whereas the death rate for hospitalized individuals had been one in eight (12.5 percent) in September and October, it has now risen to approximately one in four (25 percent) since the start of November, the study said.

That fatality rate has climbed even further in recent weeks.

While there were fewer than 20 deaths per day attributed to Covid-19 in Los Angeles County at the start of November, the number of daily fatalities has risen to 200 over the past seven days, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A key problem now facing Los Angeles is the critical situation in hospitals, according to Feigl-Ding, who said intensive care unit beds are “completely full” and there is a lack of availability of hospital beds in general.

“Hospital beds are very hard to find across the country but especially in Southern California, especially in Los Angeles,” the expert said.

At the national level, the expert said the United States is up against the worst of all possible scenarios, with around 4,000 deaths per day.

The US thus far has more than 24.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 411,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The situation, however, may improve in the summer, according to Feigl-Ding, who said he is hopeful that vaccines will be much more readily available by then.

The expert said some 115 million people will have been vaccinated against Covid-19 nationwide by the summer, a calculation roughly in line with newly inaugurated President Joe Biden’s vow to have 100 million people inoculated during his first 100 days in office.

Referring to the task ahead for the new head of state in combating Covid-19, Feigl-Ding said he will need to limit international travel, impose coronavirus test and quarantine requirements and find ways to speed up the vaccine rollout. EFE-EPA


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