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Is California Ready For The Possibility Of Mass Coronavirus Casualties?

Grave marker at Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach. (Susan Valot/KPCC)
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California state and local governments have been coordinating with the funeral industry for years to handle the excess deaths that a pandemic might cause. But the plan has never been stress-tested by anything like the growing coronavirus outbreak.

California’s system of mutual aid is far more practiced in dealing with a handful or dozens of victims in a plane crash, fire or mass shooting, but it’s never been used to cope with hundreds or even thousands of deaths that might occur over weeks in every part of the state.

So far at least 21 people have died from COVID-19 in L.A. County alone, with at least 1,216 confirmed cases as of Thursday, and officials are expecting the number of cases and deaths to continue to climb in the coming days.

How would L.A. handle a dramatic increase in coronavirus-related deaths? When a catastrophe overwhelms the capacity of local funeral homes, the state can activate its Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. It would mobilize the broad category of licensed death care workers to safeguard and store the bodies, with federal funds picking up the cost.

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