California Casket Builder Running Out of Wood for Coffins As COVID Deaths Increase by 600%

Wood that is used to build coffins is becoming increasingly hard to come by in Southern California as the number of COVID-19 deaths continues rising throughout the state, a casket builder told The Daily Beast this week.

On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said health officials reported 432 COVID-19 deaths on December 29, which state data shows is the highest number of virus-related deaths reported on a single day in the state since the start of the pandemic. Compared with the 70 deaths reported at the end of November, the number of virus-related deaths reported Wednesday represents an increase of more than 600 percent over the 70 deaths reported in a single day at the end of November, with more than 200 deaths per day reported on several days over the last month.

California's seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths was 239 based on state data updated through December 29, Newsom said. According to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the state's current death count of 24,958 could surpass 70,000 virus deaths by early April.

Funeral homes and casket builders in Southern California are running out of space and resources as a result of the state's recent COVID-19 death surge. One funeral home in Los Angeles County told the news outlet its 20-foot refrigerated trailer was not sufficient for holding the decedents sent to the facility. Some hospital morgues further south in San Diego County also had to start sending decedents to the county medical examiner's office for storage after exceeding their capacities earlier this week.

Southern California hospital coronavirus
Casket builders and funeral homes in Southern California are reportedly running out of supplies and space as COVID-19 continues surging throughout the state. In the photo above, clinicians work in the former lobby of Providence St. Mary Medical Center, which has been converted into a care space to treat suspected COVID patients, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Southern California on December 23, 2020 in Apple Valley, California. Mario Tama/Getty

Auriel 'Guero' Suarez, the owner of Universal Caskets Manufacturing Corporation in Los Angeles County, said supplies of cheaper wood in particular were dwindling.

"Wood is getting scarce, especially pine, which is the most inexpensive," Suarez told The Beast, adding that it was an issue he has not previously encountered in his five decades of experience in the industry.

Bob Achermann, the executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association, told the news outlet the spacing issues at funeral homes were creating "almost a triage situation, where funeral homes are figuring out what space they have."

Achermann told Newsweek the storage issue was a bigger problem throughout California on Wednesday than the availability of materials for building caskets, while he identified as a problem he has "not heard much about."

California became the first U.S. state last week to report more than 2 million total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the state's first case of a new COVID-19 variant that is believed to be highly contagious was identified in a patient in Southern California, making the state the second in the U.S. to confirm the existence of the variant known as B.1.1.7.

Colorado was the first state to report the presence of the variant on Tuesday.