SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON/AP) – California is seeing a spike in COVID-19 deaths as the state activates its mass fatality program. 

This comes as state leaders work to boost staffing at hospitals and vaccinate critical workers. 

“This is a deadly disease. A deadly pandemic and we’re in the middle of it,” Governor Newsom said. 

Governor Gavin Newsom giving a grim update to California’s COVID-19 situation Tuesday.

The state is averaging more than 160 deaths per day over the last week prompting the state to activate its coroner mutual aid and mass fatality program. 

“We just had to order 5,000 additional body bags they just purchased for the state, and we just distribute them to Los Angeles, San Diego and Inyo’s counties. That should be sobering,” Newsom said.  

California is now averaging more than 32,500 new COVID-19 cases per day, with about 12% of those expected to be hospitalized in a matter of weeks. 

As regional available intensive care unit capacities dwindle, state leaders say putting together surge staffing is the priority.

California is distributing an extra 500 medical professionals throughout 20 counties, 50 of them from the California National Guard.

The state is also working to vaccinate front line essential workers in every county.

29 jurisdictions in California slated to receive doses of Pfizer’s vaccine between Tuesday and Wednesday.

The state hopes to have more than 2 million people vaccinated within the next month or so. 

“But we have work to do in the tunnel, although there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Newsom said.  

This week the state’s vaccine advisory committee will begin public discussions on who will receive the vaccine in the next phase — Phase 1b.

Newsom says grocery workers, teachers, and farm workers are included in those discussions.

The record-breaking figures in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties come as more than 325,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are on the way to California.

The first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine left Michigan early Sunday for 145 distribution centers nationwide. States will get vaccines based on their adult population and additional shipments are coming this week.

The vaccine is heading to hospitals and other sites across the country that can store it at extremely low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero. Pfizer is using containers with dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors to ensure each shipment stays colder than the weather in Antarctica.

The vaccines are coming as the situation grows more dire by the day nationwide and in California, with the holiday season well underway. Public health officials are afraid the already surging infection rates and hospitalizations will continue to climb as people ignore precautions to gather for the holidays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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