LOS ANGELES - California has distributed at least 166 refrigerated trailers to be used as temporary morgues by overwhelmed hospitals facing record COVID-related deaths, officials said Thursday.
The state is reeling from coronavirus, with almost 2,500 deaths last week -- far more than any other US state -- and many hospital morgues now full.
Cases began spiking even before Thanksgiving gatherings spread the virus faster, and California is bracing for a "surge on top of a surge" driven in part by Christmas and New Year festivities.
Mark Ghilarducci, the state's emergency services director, said the "mass fatality management plan" would mean backed-up dead bodies can be "dealt with respect and dignity."
The plan was announced after studies of hospitalization data predicted "the severity of a surge in COVID-19-related fatalities that will only add to the existing normal rate of non-COVID deaths," a statement said.
Since many of the refrigerated trailers are not designed as morgues, shelving is being installed to increase their holding capacity by at least double.
National Guard members were dispatched this week to assist the coroner's office in Los Angeles, where 1 person is dying every 15 minutes from the virus alone.
The city will also receive a new temporary morgue in the parking lot next to its coroner facility.
Mortuary and funeral home operators have begun turning away bereaved families because they don't have the capacity to handle more bodies, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Most California regions including Los Angeles -- where ambulances have been turned away from hospitals -- are under a state-mandated "stay-at-home order."
Los Angeles hospitals are so overwhelmed that ambulance workers have been told to stop transporting some patients with extremely low survival chances.