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Coroners having trouble finding space for bodies as coronavirus ravages SC

Funeral homes across the state say they're seeing increased numbers of COVID-19 related deaths and it's having an effect on workers.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — As COVID-19 numbers surge, funeral homes say they're seeing an increase in COVID-19 related deaths. 

IS Leevy Johnson from Leevy's Funeral Home says the tragedy he and his staff are seeing has a lasting impact on their mental and emotional health.

"There has been an increase in COVID related deaths," said Johnson.

The team at Leevy's Funeral Home are some of the many frontline workers, working non-stop because of the increase in deaths in SC. 

South Carolina's death toll has reached a grim milestone, nearly 11,000 deaths.

Johnson says he and his staff are used to working long hours, but nothing prepared him for what he's seeing now.

"We can say unequivocally that there has been an increase in the number of deaths as a result to COVID," he said.

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He says watching a family's heartbreak following a COVID death is devastating. "The profound impact on the families, the sorrow they experienced in seeing their loved one suffer, it's just horrible, it's a very horrible experience."

He says seeing the rising death toll is mentally draining. "In the funeral business, it's usually a personal relationship between family and the funeral director, to witness them sorrowing and mourning, it has an effect on us."

Sabrina Gast, President of the South Carolina Coroners Association says some coroners are struggling to find the space to store bodies. "We have seen an increase in the number of COVID-related deaths," said Gast.

RELATED: Many South Carolina hospitals nearing capacity

Gast went on to say, "A lot of hospitals do not have adequate morgue storage, and with the number of deaths they are seeing, they're not having the proper locations to store the decedents, so they're asking for refrigerated trailers to help with that."

As of September 7th, according to DHEC, there were 192 deaths across the state over the Labor Day weekend, seeing a total of 20,377 COVID cases.

Gast said, "Local resources have reached max capacity and they're no longer able to function on their own."

As for Johnson, he's pleading for people to go get vaccinated, "It's frustrating, frankly, to see that people are not availing themselves to the vaccines so they can be protected."

RELATED: South Carolina leads the nation in COVID-19 infections