Coronavirus: Bay Area funeral homes planned for surge of deaths, but now report little need for extra space

COLMA, Calif. (KGO) -- Bay Area funeral homes report there's been little need to use emergency accommodation plans amid a predicted surge of COVID-19 deaths expected this week.

"In the initial models, we thought we were going to have an additional 1,000 deaths," said Robert Gordon, President of Cypress Lawn Funeral Home in Colma. "But, thankfully we've seen a low COVID death rate in the counties we serve."

Colma accommodates funeral services for most of San Mateo and San Francisco Counties.

"We've served about 5 percent of the expected surge," said Gordon, who was originally prepared to accommodate 300 additional bodies.

In an effort to prepare, Gordon purchased two refrigeration containers that could each accommodate 50 bodies. Now, both sit empty.

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It's a similar situation for Dan Duggan, of Duggan's Serra Mortuary.

Duggan reported a surge of COVID-19 deaths in early April.

"But, the last three weeks have actually been very, very quiet," Duggan said. "I think it's due to effective social distancing and shelter in place orders."

Duggan was proactive in early to prepare and installed a secured refrigeration facility on his property. But, he said thankfully it won't be needed right now.
"Hopefully there's not going to be that spike they were predicting a couple weeks after New York's spike," Duggan said.

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That seems to be the trend. ABC7 confirmed funeral homes in each of the nine Bay Area counties purchased refrigeration units in anticipation of a surge, but most are not being used.

Like one visible in the parking lot of "Duggan's Funeral Service" off 17th Street in the Mission District. ABC7 confirmed the unit can accommodate 60 bodies, but is now empty.

Duggan and Gordon agree it's a testament to effective stay at home orders.

"Grateful to all the families in our community that sheltered in place, and did the right things that helped us all to be safer," Gordon said.

Temporary refrigeration storage containers visible outside in several counties may be removed in late May if this trend continues.

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