New York City is planning to use public parks to temporarily bury coronavirus victims because of the lack of space in morgues, funeral homes, and cemeteries, according to NYC Council Member Mark Levine. But a spokesman for Mayor Bill De Blasio denied the rumor.
Tweeted Levine: “NYC’s healthcare system is being pushed to the limit. And sadly, now so is the city’s system for managing our dead. And it, too, needs more resources. This has big implications for grieving families. And for all of us. NYC’s “city morgue” is the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), which luckily is the best in the world. But they are now dealing w/ the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11. And so are hospital morgues, funeral homes & cemeteries. Every part of this system is now backed up.”
“A typical hospital morgue might hold 15 bodies,” added Levine. “Those are now all full. So OCME has sent out 80 refrigerated trailers to hospitals around the city. Each trailer can hold 100 bodies. These are now mostly full too. Some hospitals have had to add a 2nd or even a 3rd trailer. Grieving families report calling as many as half a dozen funeral homes and finding none that can handle their deceased loved ones. Cemeteries are not able to handle the number of burial requests and are turning most down.”
“It’s not just deaths in hospitals which are up,” Levine continued. “On an average day before this crisis there were 20-25 deaths at home in NYC. Now in the midst of this pandemic the number is 200-215. *Every day*. Early on in this crisis we were able to swab people who died at home, and thus got a coronavirus reading. But those days are long gone. We simply don’t have the testing capacity for the large numbers dying at home. Now only those few who had a test confirmation *before* dying are marked as victims of coronavirus on their death certificate. This almost certainly means we are undercounting the total number of victims of this pandemic. And still the number of bodies continues to increase. The freezers at OCME facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn will soon be full. And then what?”
Levine laid out the plans: “Soon we’ll start ‘temporary interment’. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly–and temporary–manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take. The goal is to avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets. OCME is going to need much more staff to achieve that goal. Thankfully the Dept. of Defense and the NY National Guard have already sent teams, and volunteer medical examiners have come from around the country. But we are going to need much more help if we’re going to avoid disaster. As New York City continues to appeal to the nation for help, we need to ask not just for doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists. We also need mortuary affairs staff. This is tough to talk about and maybe tough to ask for. But we have no choice. The stakes are too high.”
Concluded Levine: “As New York City continues to appeal to the nation for help, we need to ask not just for doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists. We also need mortuary affairs staff. This is tough to talk about and maybe tough to ask for. But we have no choice. The stakes are too high.”
De Blasio’s press secretary Freddi Goldstein denied the rumor in a response to Levine’s tweet: “We are NOT currently planning to use local parks as burial grounds. We are exploring using Hart Island for temporary burials, if the need grows.”
“Gov. Cuomo said Monday that he would not support burying coronavirus victims in parks, but hadn’t heard that it was being considered,” Syracuse.com reported.
Levine later clarified his tweet thread.