SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- San Luis Obispo County mortuaries are struggling to keep up with the recent surge of deaths caused by COVID-19.
"It's not unusual to have a lot of people pass away, but this goes beyond that," said Kirk Reis, Reis Family Mortuary and Crematory owner. "I haven't seen it in all the years that I've been doing this. This many people passing away at one time."
Reis said the heavy increase in demand is causing many local businesses to delay their services.
"It just takes us longer to accomodate the families," said Reis. "I know some mortuaries are telling folks the middle of February before cremation can be done and that's just not good."
The situation at some mortuaries is so extreme, they are running out of space.
"Some of the mortuaries get to get refrigerated units, trucks, to accomodate the amount of influx that they have," said Reis.
In response, The City of San Luis Obispo has issued a recent proclamation allowing crematory and mortuary businesses to extend hours as needed.
"If we can do one or two more a day, we can keep up with what we we're doing now and if there's any increase, then we'll be able to handle that also," said Reis. "If we weren't able to do all this in a timely manner, then we would get further and further behind, and it would be longer and longer, for families to get their cremated remains."
The City said the proclamation was made “to protect the public health, safety and welfare during such time as the declared pandemic emergency continues.”
According to the city, Reis Family Mortuary and Wheeler Smith Mortuary each asked city leaders to remove restrictions on hours of operation due to increased demand and projections of additional demand and projections of additional post-holiday deaths.
"I can’t think of a clearer sign of the times than this," said San Luis Obispo City Manager Derek Johnson in a statement. "We need everyone to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, now more than ever. Each of us has the power to save lives by wearing face coverings, avoiding gatherings, staying at least six feet away from people outside our households, washing our hands often and staying home as much as possible."
Last week, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein announced COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the county.
On Friday, the county surpassed 100 deaths caused by COVID-19. As of Monday, the total is 111.
“This virus has claimed more than 100 local lives,” said Borenstein. “Those are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, children and grandparents who were not ready to die and whose deaths were, in fact, preventable.”