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Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on June 3rd, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 14

Solvang funeral director helps bury those who died from COVID-19 in New York City

By Zac Ezzone

As a first responder, Dan Flynn has been deployed to numerous hurricanes and countless tornadoes, but he hadn’t experienced anything like what he witnessed while in New York City during the peak of its COVID-19 outbreak. 


DEPLOYED TO DISASTERS
Solvang funeral home director Dan Flynn went to New York City for three weeks to help bury people who have died from COVID-19 as part of a federal team that provides mortuary services during mass-fatality events.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN FLYNN

Flynn—who runs Simply Remembered Cremation Care, a funeral home service with locations in Solvang, Santa Barbara, and soon Santa Maria—is a member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. Flynn said it’s comparable to the National Guard, but for mortuary services. 

He has served on the team for the last 14 years, but he has been responding to emergencies since long before that. He was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard for eight years starting in the late 1970s. Following 9/11, he joined a federal search and rescue team that’s deployed to pull people out of collapsed buildings and other situations. Through his time with the latter, he learned about the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team and decided to join.

“We get sent out to mass-fatality types of instances where the local jurisdiction is overwhelmed,” Flynn said. “And so when you talk about the Joplin [Missouri] tornado [in 2011], they only had 156 deaths, but the jurisdictions could only handle five. So their definition of overwhelmed is different from New York.”

Flynn arrived in the city on April 1 and worked 12-hour shifts every day for the three weeks he was there. During most of this time, Flynn worked at one of the city’s morgues in Brooklyn where each day he helped manage the hundreds of people who had died from COVID-19. This included fingerprinting the bodies, assigning them case numbers in a computer system, and placing them in a body bag or casket.

After responding to numerous disasters over the years, Flynn has seen towns leveled by tornadoes and hundreds of people die during hurricanes, but he said he’s never witnessed anything like what he experienced in New York.

“To be in a warehouse and see row after row of body bags, and to see rows and rows of refrigerated trailers, that’s something nobody has seen since [the Spanish flu in] 1918,” Flynn said. “[Recently] we went over 100,000 dead. In the Spanish flu, we had 800,000 dead.”

Aside from the number of bodies, Flynn said it was also shocking to see how deserted the city had become. He recalls at one point standing in the middle of Manhattan with nobody else in sight. But then he returned to California in late April and witnessed people packed on the beach in Santa Barbara. 

“I come back to California, people are at the beach, and everybody is acting like nothing is happening,” Flynn said. “I’m just thinking, ‘Are you people crazy?’”

After seeing how deadly this virus can be, Flynn said people in California need to continue to take the threat seriously. And most importantly, he said, people should listen to the recommendations of doctors and epidemiologists. This includes wearing a mask in public or continuing to maintain social distance.

“Just because the thing has slowed down, it doesn’t mean we’re over this now,” Flynn said.

Highlights

• On May 26, Santa Barbara County announced barbershops, hair salons, and religious services could resume operating with modifications in place. The county also recently announced the easing of regulations that provides wineries with a pathway to reopening. These are the latest moves forward in the county’s reopening process amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

• The city of Lompoc recently launched a contest for its Spring Yard Beautification Award. Residents and businesses can nominate yards that’ll be judged on physical appeal, water conservation, imagination, and other criteria. The contest takes place from June 8 through 19, and nominations can be sent to k_forbes@ci.lompoc.ca.us. 

Staff Writer Zac Ezzone wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send tips to spotlight@santamariasun.com.








Weekly Poll
What'd you make of the county's decision to close beaches for the Fourth of July weekend?

It was sensible since counties to the south closed their beaches.
I was OK with it. I set off fireworks at home instead.
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It didn't matter. I went to SLO County.

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