As virus surges, California buys 5,000 more body bags, prepares makeshift morgues

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — California has activated its mass fatality management program amid a state average of more than 160 COVID-19 deaths per day over the last week.

“This is a deadly disease, a deadly pandemic, and we’re in the middle of it,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday. “We just had to order 5,000 additional body bags — they just purchased for the state — and we just distributed them down to San Diego, Los Angeles and Inyo counties. That should be sobering.”

Amid the activation of the Coroners’ Mutual Aid and Mass Fatality Management Planning Program, the state has 60 refrigerated trailers on standby to be used as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge in deaths.

The precautions come from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak and threaten to soon overwhelm the hospital system. Newsom said Tuesday that the number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from a month ago.

California is now averaging more than 32,500 new COVID-19 cases per day, with about 12% of those expected to be hospitalized in a matter of weeks.

The surge is forcing an urgent scramble for more staff and space, a crush that might not abate for two months despite the arrival of the first doses of vaccines this week.

As regional available intensive care unit capacities dwindle, state leaders say putting together surge staffing is the priority.

California is distributing an extra 500 medical professionals throughout 20 counties, 50 of them from the California National Guard.

The state is also working to vaccinate frontline essential workers in every county.

Twenty-nine jurisdictions in California were slated to receive doses of Pfizer’s vaccine between Tuesday and Wednesday.

The state hopes to have more than 2 million people vaccinated within the next month or so.

“But we have work to do in the tunnel, although there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Newsom said.

This week, the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee will begin public discussions on who will receive the vaccine in the next phase — Phase 1B. Newsom said grocery workers, teachers and farmworkers are included in those discussions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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