Long Beach reports record 14 COVID-19 deaths as hospitals add refrigerated units to store bodies

The city reported a record 14 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday—double the previous one-day high set earlier this month—as officials said additional refrigerated units are being brought to area hospitals to help store bodies.

Funeral directors are also being inundated, according to Bob Achermann, executive director of California Funeral Directors Association.

“I think everyone is just pedaling as fast as they can,” he said. “I don’t think anybody expected for it to get like this.”

An update from the city manager’s office Tuesday said specifically that the morgues at Los Alamitos Medical Center and College Hospital were “experiencing difficulty” and received extra refrigerated units.

As intensive care units edge dangerously close to capacity, the city has deployed its mobile hospitals to Long Beach Memorial and College Hospital to provide additional space, and “our wait time for ambulances at hospitals has increased significantly,” the city manager’s office said.

Hospitals are working to move ambulances through more quickly, and are finding other options for patients who don’t need emergency transportation. Long Beach is adding ambulance operators and requiring some to work on furlough days, according to the city manager’s office.

In a statement released Tuesday, the city’s health department said the deaths were preventable and blamed Thanksgiving gatherings for the current strain on the health system.

“This massive exposure created a surge, not only among those who gathered but also afterward through community spread,” Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer, said in a statement. “Sadly, we will hit more milestones regarding daily fatalities.”

Ken McKenzie, who has owned and operated McKenzie Mortuary Services in Long Beach for more than 25 years, said he’s seeing parallels to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“I’m hearing questions about, ‘Will you take a COVID case? Is there an extra charge for a COVID case?'” he said.

Officials fear the worst may not yet have arrived.

The average number of daily cases increased 1,223% over the last six weeks, from 47 on Nov. 1 to 622 as of Dec. 18. Since Thanksgiving, hospitalizations in Long Beach area hospitals increased 230% from 111 to 367.

In all, 333 people have died of COVID-19 in Long Beach. Over 16% of those deaths have occurred just since the beginning of December.

“We can and must stop this trend,” Davis said.

Regional hospital capacity is at 0% according to state health officials’ weighted formula, while Long Beach area hospitals are 98.5% full, with 62% of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

“If we don’t want to see another, even stronger surge, we need to make sacrifices this holiday season,” Davis said. “Our lives depend on it.”

Reporter Sebastian Echeverry contributed to this report.

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Brandon Richardson is a business reporter, covering everything from real estate and healthcare to the airport and port to city hall and the economy. He is a Long Beach native who has been with the Business Journal since graduating from Long Beach City College in spring 2016 with an associate’s degree in journalism. He is an avid record collector and concert goer.
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