Bay Area funeral homes prepare for surge of COVID-19 deaths, families cope with new restrictions

SAN MATEO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Funeral homes and cemeteries across San Mateo County are bracing for 1,000 additional deaths tied to COVID-19 by the end of April. According to county data, that figure is roughly double what cemeteries in the area typically accommodate per month.

"It's devastating... You know, you wish you could of done something more," said Marirose Macaraig, wiping tears off her face as she mourns the loss of her mom, Teresita.

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Teresita, known by her relatives as "Momma Terry" died alone at Seton Medical Center last week after contracting pneumonia.

"It was really hard," Macaraig said. "I never got to say goodbye to her."

Six days later came another challenge.

Of the 100 friends and family who wished to be present at the funeral, Marirose had to pick 10.

"We've never seen anything like this in our lifetime," said Dan Duggan, owner of Duggan's Serra Mortuary in Daly City.

"It's very hard for families to decide who are the 10 family members that can attend," he said.

Duggan usually has an average of 300-400 people filling the chapels everyday, but now state regulation requires all services be limited to 10 people.

"I'm grateful there is a livestream service so my family all across the world can pray together," said Macaraig.

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As families like the Macaraig try to find closure, Duggan and his staff are preparing for what's to come by late April.

"This is much bigger than anything we've seen before and we don't know where it will end," said Duggan.

In an effort to be prepared for a surge, Duggan has ordered a new refrigeration facility that will double his storage capacity.

Similar preparations are underway down the street at Cypress Lawn Funeral Home in Colma.

President and CEO Robert Gordon said he's preparing for the worst.

"We've added two new cooler containers that will accommodate up to 100 additional bodies," he said. "We hope we won't have to use them."

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Gordon pointed out the expected surge may require additional help and San Mateo County is working on being prepared.

"In a recent call we were asked to be prepared to handle up to 1,000 additional bodies by the end of April," Gordon said.

"The peak here in the San Francisco Bay Area is expected to be around the end of April, beginning of May," Duggan said. "We will be ready."

Cemetery directors in Colma tell ABC7 there are plans underway to provide additional storage, if hospitals in the area become overwhelmed.

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