LOS ANGELES — I thought I understood the Covid-19 death toll. Then I started spending time at an East Los Angeles funeral home with the photographer Alex Welsh.
Off and on for several weeks, we watched the life of the death business at Continental Funeral Home for this story. It’s hard to begin to describe what it was like. I’ve reported on death before as a journalist — too much, really — but this was something different.
The scale of it all was the most disturbing.
There were so many bodies — in zippered bags, in sheets, in cardboard boxes, on stretchers, in racks — that they lost some of their individuality. But they gained something, too: a kind of silent, numbing collective power. In the chapel area where I counted 62 one afternoon, the rooms felt crowded with their presence. Even the busiest workers had a way of lowering their voices there.
I’m sure others have studied the trauma of body removal in mass disasters. There was a hurried normalcy to all this — the workers unloading flat sheets of cardboard for future boxes, the radio in a back room playing classic rock, mariachi music drifting into the halls from a funeral outside. But normalcy was deceptive. One funeral-home worker told me one of the people she relied on the most during the pandemic was her therapist.
I didn’t tell my son and my daughter what story I was working on. I wore two masks, and a black medical gown. People stared at me as I walked from my parked car to the building.
I spent a lot of time just counting. I’d ignore everything else and count the bodies around me. That’s how my notes looked. On one page I wrote: 31 + 7 + 4 + 2. It was its own language, and more powerful than any sentence I could write.
The mind sort of resists mass death. We think of death as singular, individual. So Alex and I naturally sought out the relatives of Covid victims, to help us put a name and a story to at least a few of the dead.
I stood in the Continental parking lot one evening for the funeral of Humberto Cruz Perez, who was 38, worked at a nursery and had been married for eight months. His 4-year-old stepson kicked a ball during the services. His sneakers lit up with every step.
“It’s hard for him to understand, so being here maybe it will help him,” said the boy’s mother and Mr. Perez’s widow, Maria Carrillo. “It breaks my heart. I wish I could take that pain away.”
A two-year study, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, has released preliminary findings. The program gave $500 a month to 125 randomly selected residents for two years, and the preliminary results show a rise in full-time employment, more debt paid off and improvement of mental health. [FOX KTVU]
New research suggests that when big companies increase wages, they drive up pay in the places where they operate — without a notable loss in jobs. [The New York Times]
Starting on March 12, Universal Studios Hollywood plans to reopen on weekends, for a food and shopping event. Several hundred workers who were previously furloughed will be rehired to staff the event. [The Los Angeles Times]
Covering about only six blocks, Nihonmachi in San Francisco is now the country’s oldest and largest Japantown. However, the pandemic and an expiring agreement with the city threaten the survival of this neighborhood. [San Francisco Chronicle]
San Francisco spends $16.1 million sheltering homeless people in 262 tents placed in empty lots around the city where they also get services and food. That averages a little over $61,000 per tent. [San Francisco Chronicle]
California child care sites have reported more than 12,000 cases of Covid-19 and 30 related deaths since the pandemic began. [CalMatters]
The Southern California Association of Governments voted Thursday to adopt a new housing plan that will triple its future home-building goals to 1.3 million new homes by 2029, acting over repeated objections from public officials that the number is too big. [The Orange County Register]
The attorney general’s office is withholding gun violence data from a state-funded research institution tasked by lawmakers with evaluating California’s firearm regulations. The office is also directing universities to destroy records the agency previously released. [The Sacramento Bee] — Steven Moity and Jake Frankenfield
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California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.