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A California hospital has come under fire after leaving the dead bodies of nearly 20 COVID-19 patients lying in the rain for several days until security guards could eventually move them to a refrigerated morgue.
Wet body bags of victims are seen stacked outside the hospital, owned by Pipeline Health System, in a video taken by CBSLA. The footage shows the soaking wet body bags being stacked outside the memorial hospital in Gardena, Los Angeles. Employees can also be seen in the video rearranging the body bags of 19 deceased COVID-19 patients that are being transported to a mobile freezer in the parking lot of the hospital.
According to a hospital spokesperson, there was a morgue inside the hospital that could hold only six bodies, causing difficulties throughout the pandemic.
The hospital spokesperson also added that the mobile freezer outside the hospital is maintained at 34 degrees Fahrenheit, the required temperature for storing the bodies. He also denied that the bodies had been left out in the rain.
‘Because of the overcrowding situation, hospital administrators took action yesterday to organize the outdoor cooling unit in a more orderly fashion,’ Memorial Hospital of Gardena wrote to CBSLA.
‘Hospital protocol calls upon security guards to assist in the process when mortuaries come to pick up bodies, primarily helping to lift and move the bodies,’ the statement continued.
A witness, however, recalled watching teary-eyed workers load the bodies into the freezer in a recent downpour.
‘Security had tears in their eyes. They’re crying. Some of the security had to leave because they got fluid on their clothes when they did move the bodies,’ the anonymous witness told the news outlet.
According to the witness, the bodies could not have been stored at an adequate temperature due to what appeared to be body fluids on the bags. ‘Impossible. Those bodies were defrosted. They were decomposing,’ she said.
Although it is unclear how long the bodies were left outside before they were transferred, the hospital confirmed that bodies are sometimes kept in the mobile freezer for months at a time.
Eleven of the 19 people whose bodies were seen being transferred have yet to be claimed by their families and Los Angeles County is yet to pick them up.
According to Vidal Herrera, the owner of the independent autopsy company, it is illegal to store bodies in the manner the hospital was photographed doing it.
In addition, Herrera, owner of 1-800-Autopsy, told Fox 11 that he received calls from a mortuary picking up bodies, noting that they saw ‘piled up, bloody body bags and didn’t know what to do.’
Herrera spoke to CBSLA. He told the news outlet that, looking at the photos, ‘I could see a lot of bodily fluids, and right there the pathogens- that can expose security guards and whomever walks in there. A body should never be there for more than two weeks.’
Throughout the world, hospitals have faced challenges during the pandemic, and Herrera says Memorial Hospital of Gardena is no exception. ‘This is happening in small facilities, all over. It’s going to get worse with COVID surges. It’s far from over,’ he told Fox 11.
A spokesperson for Memorial Hospital of Gardena said in a statement that the administration is planning to get a larger temporary cooling unit to ‘alleviate the overcrowding.’
The scenes outside the California hospital resemble the disturbing scenes that emerged during the early days of the Coronavirus when disturbing images surfaced of bodies lined up along streets outside of New York City hospitals before they were loaded onto trucks used as makeshift morgues.
Dead bodies were seen being loaded onto refrigerated trucks with forklifts at Brookdale Hospital Center in Brooklyn’s Brownsville section. Body bags containing deceased COVID-19 patients were placed on stretchers when they were taken out of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick.
California, like the rest of the country, is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 caused by both its highly contagious Delta and Omicron variants. A state-wide mask mandate was re-introduced two weeks ago as cases spiked by 47%. Cases have since risen dramatically.
According to the California Department of Public Health, the positivity rate has quadrupled since then, rising from 2.3% on December 15 to 9.7% as of Tuesday night.
In a state dashboard report released Tuesday, which was delayed by the holiday weekend, California became the first to report more than 5 million known Coronavirus infections.
As of Wednesday, California’s seven-day average of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 19,950, an increase of more than 200% over the 9,506 reported the week before.
The numbers of cases are up by about 320% from the 6,203 average recorded two weeks ago and nearly 460% from the 4,310 average recorded at the end of last month.
From Monday to Tuesday, California had a nearly 300% increase in cases: from 16,668 to 49,384.