California is bracing for the possibility of a surge in COVID-19 deaths that could overwhelm hospitals and morgues, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

The state ordered 5,000 additional body bags that are being distributed to Los Angeles, San Diego and Inyo counties. And dozens of 53-foot refrigerator storage units are currently on standby throughout the state, Newsom said in a livestreamed news briefing.

“That should be sobering,” the governor said. “I don’t want people to scare folks. But this is a deadly disease. And we need to be mindful of where we are in this current journey together to the vaccine. We are not at the finish line yet.”

The precautions come from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak and threaten to soon overwhelm the hospital system.

The state is also activating its coroner mutual aid and mass fatality program, which Newsom said will allow for better coordination between hospitals and morgues.

As the vaccine rollout continued for its second day Tuesday, the state reported more than 32,300 new virus cases and 142 fatalities. Newsom said the number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from a month ago.

Meanwhile, there were 14,283 people hospitalized across the state Tuesday — a 68% increase in just two weeks.

The surge is forcing an urgent scramble for more staff and space, a crush that might not abate for two months despite the arrival of the first doses of vaccines this week.

It’s still unclear when vaccines will be widely available in California, and in the meantime the state is facing what Newsom called “perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

In Orange County, health officials said they plan to send large tents to four hospitals to help handle their patient caseloads.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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