One of largest cemeteries in U.S. struggles with wave of Covid-19 deaths

One of largest cemeteries in U.S. struggles with wave of Covid-19 deaths

One of the largest cemeteries in North America is fighting to keep up with the demand for funeral services because of an uptick in Covid-19 deaths.

Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, California, covers over 1,000 acres, but families are having to wait up to five weeks for funeral arrangements, compared to the usual waiting period of five to seven days.

“Many families have been very understanding about the backlog of services,” said Patrick Monroe, president and CEO of Rose Hills, adding that the daily call volume for requests spiked a few weeks after Thanksgiving.

Monroe said it usually handles 20 to 30 funerals a day, but the number nearly doubled over the last 1 1/2 months. As Covid-19 deaths mount, the cemetery has ordered 25 refrigeration units to hold the additional bodies.

California has reported more than 3 million coronavirus cases, according to an NBC News count, and almost 40,000 deaths. In the nation’s largest county, Los Angeles, 10 people on average test positive for the coronavirus every minute. Every six minutes, someone dies from Covid-19, according to county public health data.

While indoor funerals are banned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the cemetery set up multiple outside funeral and visitation sites to manage the arrangements and maintain safety guidelines.

“Family members aren’t really able to see their loved ones in the hospital, so viewings now have a whole new emotional impact,” Monroe said.

Though staff members are overwhelmed by the death toll, they are resilient, Monroe said. The cemetery offers employee assistance programs, special compensation and break rooms with healthy snacks.

“I am really proud of our team,” Monroe said. “Just like health care workers, they keep coming back to do the best that they can, and I am thankful for them.”

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