Bay Area mortuaries experience backlog, blame surge in COVID deaths

Bay Area mortuaries seeing the impact of the surge in COVID-19 deaths are running out of room to store bodies. Some are now turning away families.
 
The staff at Baker Prado Mortuary in Oakland says it normally picks up bodies from the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau three to four times a week.
 
On Tuesday, workers picked up five bodies. But they say the mortuary is now full so they won't be doing any more pickups for at least a week.
              
They also say they've had to turn away more than two dozen families since Monday because they have no more room to store deceased loved ones. 
 
"This is the freezer. This is where the bodies are at," said Todd Walker, funeral director with Baker Prado. 
 
He said the mortuary has the capacity to store 30 bodies, "I've been doing this for 16 years and I've never seen this many deaths at one time each day."
 
Ari, who declined to give his last name, is a funeral counselor at Baker Prado.
 
He said he was called away New Year's Eve to help the company's mortuaries in Los Angeles and that he returned to Oakland recently because of the surge in COVID-19 deaths here.
 
He says there's no escaping the reality of the pandemic in his line of work consoling families. 
 
"Since March, it's just been over, and over, and over. The human soul can only take so much. The continuous part of this is a lot," Ari said 
 
At the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau, spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said new portable cold storage trailer arrived Tuesday, bringing the total to two.
 
It was brought in to deal with the surge in deaths. Each unit can hold 40 bodies.
 
"We're at 95 bodies that we're holding onto. Typically, we have 25 to 30 during normal times," Sgt. Kelly said.
 
He said the morgue has a total capacity for 200 bodies.
 
Kelly said a lot of local mortuaries and funeral homes are at maximum capacity and that means the morgue is having to hold onto bodies longer.
 
"Families don't have the ability to put on services or put on the religious and cultural services for their loved ones," Sgt. Kelly said.
 
At the mortuary, Walker said there is now a wait list for families who've lost a loved one to get services. 
 
"It's like a nightmare. You just got to be strong. Keep your faith in God and do what you got to do," Walker said.
 
Sgt. Kelly said the morgue is not overwhelmed at this point.
 
If necessary, he said the county is prepared to order more of these trailers or use cold storage units normally reserved for other purposes.