LA Eases Smog Rule to Curb Backlog of COVID Cremations

Ralph Ellis

January 19, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The COVID pandemic continues to hammer Southern California.

Los Angeles County recently became the first county in the nation to top 1 million cases. 

On Monday, L.A. County reported 9,927 new cases (1,024,190 total), 88 deaths (12,936 total), and 7,328 hospitalizations.

So many people are dying that pollution-control limits on the number of cremations were lifted to deal with a backlog of bodies.

"The current rate of death is more than double that of pre-pandemic years, leading to hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums exceeding capacity without the ability to process the backlog of cases," the South Coast Air Quality Management District said in a news release.

"The Los Angeles County Medical-Examiner Coroner (ME-Coroner) and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have requested that South Coast AQMD suspend limits on cremations in order to protect public health and to respond to the current emergency."

Despite widespread efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, California on Monday became the first state to record 3 million confirmed COVID-19 infections.

The milestone was not unexpected since California is the most populous state in the nation, but the rapid increase in cases is alarming. 

California's first COVID-19 infection was reported on Jan. 25, 2020. It took 292 days to hit 1 million cases on Nov. 11, 2020, The Associated Press reported. It only took 44 days to go from 1 million cases to 2 million cases on Dec. 24, but less than a month to hit 3 million cases.

California has also recorded more than 33,700 coronavirus-related deaths. Texas has recorded about 2.1 million cases and more than 32,700 deaths, Florida has 1.5 million cases and more than 24,200 deaths, and New York 1.2 million cases and more than 41,000 deaths.

The coronavirus surge has overloaded California hospitals, causing Gov. Gavin Newsom to impose regional stay-at-home orders that are triggered when hospital ICU capacity dropped below 15%. 

Though hospitalizations have eased in recent days, health experts say that could change when the full impact of transmissions caused by New Year's Eve gatherings occurs, the AP said.

On Monday, the state's COVID dashboard said 20,968 people were hospitalized with the virus, a decrease of 175 over the previous day. There were 4,826 patients in ICU beds, an increase of 6 over the previous day. Only 1,113 ICU beds were available.

Sources:

AP. "California becomes first state to top 3 million virus cases
https://apnews.com/article/los-angeles-coronavirus-pandemic-california-coronavirus-vaccine-us-news-51a97c9d7fd02e5fb66553a27603ba4e

State Covid dashboard
https://covid19.ca.gov/state-dashboard/

South Coast Air Quality Management District
http://www.aqmd.gov/docs/default-source/news-archive/2021/emergency-order-for-crematoriums-jan17-2021.pdf

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