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A corpse in the break room. Embalmed bodies in the garage. Boyd Funeral Home, a small family-owned funeral home in Los Angeles, is so saturated with COVID-19 victims that it has started turning away clients for the first time in its history.
“Last weekend I turned away 16 families that I couldn’t serve,” says owner Candy Boyd. “It’s sad. But that’s how it is now.”
In the last two weeks, the coronavirus hit the city of Los Angeles and around 80% of the deceased who passed through its doors died from the virus.
One in 10 residents of the country’s second-largest city has been infected since the pandemic began, and nearly 300 people died daily last week as infections increased.
At Boyd’s front desk, the phones don’t stop ringing, but the callers get no answer. The overwhelmed staff now tell customers to just show up and line up.
He’s even getting calls from desperate families in other counties, more than an hour’s drive away.
Many hospital morgues are also full, with local coroners using refrigerated trucks to accommodate victims. Some cemeteries warn of waiting lists of two weeks.
“Things are getting more out of control,” says Boyd.
During AFP’s visit this week, a coffin with a small flower crown occupied the employee break room. He had been there a week.
“This room is our lunch area, however, we have to use this room as a coffin space,” explains the owner. “We have done the services, but the cemetery is so busy that we have to keep them here until they have time to do the burial.”
– Bodies in the garage –
Like much of South Los Angeles, the Westmont neighborhood is home to primarily black and Latino working-class communities, residing in densely populated households.
These areas have been particularly affected by the pandemic, with mortality rates two to three times higher than those of nearby communities.
The cold room at Boyd’s funeral home has been constantly full.
Two weeks ago, Boyd brought in carpenters to build two large wooden structures in the company’s garage for storing embalmed bodies.
“He hasn’t even had a chance to really finish because we needed (to store) these,” he says, pointing to the corpses wrapped in bags that lay on the shelves.
“I never would have imagined having to build that, not even in my wildest dreams.”
Some funeral homes have reported a shortage of caskets due to a lack of wood, although Boyd’s supplier keeps up with orders as long as they are placed well in advance.
– “Nightmares” –
Concerned that her five employees caught the virus at the start of the pandemic, Boyd initially refused to accept COVID victims. “I had nightmares. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,” he recalls.
Since then, Boyd has created security protocols and is now comfortable dealing with the influx, although she insists it is “not about money.”
“It’s about helping families,” he says.
“It takes its toll on me every day, I’m dealing with this,” adds Boyd. “And I have to keep an impassive face because I have to be there for the family.”
Sometimes clients are people you have known personally for a long time.
Other times, Boyd encounters families who still refuse to wear masks or respect physical distance, even as they go through the paperwork to bury their loved ones.
“The numbers don’t lie. It’s true. It’s real,” Boyd says of the disease.
Cases in California have more than doubled since early December to 2.8 million.
“If you don’t take it seriously,” he warns an AFP journalist, “you could be one of the people in my last row.”
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