New York City is looking at possible options for where the unclaimed bodies of those who have passed away from coronavirus can be buried.
The city’s morgues, funeral homes and crematoriums are filling up fast and the city is looking for additional locations in which to store the dead.
Last week, as the city dealt with the mounting coronavirus death toll and dwindling morgue space, the city announced that Hart Island would be used for the burials of virus dead unclaimed after 14 days in storage, but now a park in Queens may also be used.
New York City is dealing with the mounting coronavirus death toll and dwindling morgue space. An email has emerged which suggest the city was looking at Fort Totten Park in Queens, New York as a potential burial site
Overviews of Fort Totten Park in Queens, New York. The bodies of those killed by coronavirus may be buried at this location if current capacity at other sites is exceeded
Fort Totten, a former cemetery, may well be where hundreds of bodies could be buried during the pandemic.
At least 6,898 New York City residents have died in the pandemic so far.
‘If the current outbreak escalates, burials will occur at Fort Totten and Hart Island,’ according to an email written in March, as seen by the New York Daily News.
The Mayor’s office has denied Fort Totten will be used as a site for public burials and on Sunday, mayoral spokeswoman Avery Cohen stated that use of the park was not on the table at present.
‘We are not considering temporary burials at this time,’ she wrote.
Mayor de Blasio’s press secretary Freddi Goldstein added: ‘We’ve increased capacity enough that we do not believe we’ll have to move to temporary burials.’
The strong stone walls of Fort Totten Battery, now part of the public city parks of New York
Fort Totten was once a former cemetery. It could well be the location where hundreds of bodies are buried during the pandemic, even if only temporarily
In the March 29 email as seen by the News, details were set out as to what work would be required to turn Fort Totten into a burial site.
The city has used Hart Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the 19th century.
Typically, about 25 bodies are buried there once a week by low-paid Rikers Island jail inmates but that number began increasing last month as the coronavirus spread rapidly and New York became the epicenter of the pandemic.
About two dozen bodies a day, five days a week, are now being buried at the site.
Bodies are seen inside a makeshift morgue outside Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn
Bodies are moved by medical staff to refrigerator truck morgues under the cover of darkness at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York, last week as the death toll rises
Until now, officials have remained tight-lipped on whether coronavirus victims were being buried on Hart Island.
On Thursday, officials said they had no choice but to bury COVID-19 patients at the city’s cemetery as it deals with the mounting coronavirus death toll and dwindling morgue space.
It comes after aerial images captured contracted laborers burying about 40 cases in a huge trench on Hart Island on Thursday.
City officials haven’t explained whether the increase in burials at Hart Island is due to pressure on mortuaries to dispose of bodies more quickly.
Last week, workers wearing personal protective equipment were seen burying bodies in a trench on Hart Island
Officials have explored the possibility of temporary burials on Hart Island, a strip of land in Long Island Sound that has long served as the city’s potter’s field
Burials at Fort Totten could help provide some relief when it comes to storing bodies while the city attempts to deal with the pandemic and flatten the curve.
Coffins are stacked three-high in trenches at Hart Island and it could take months to return to families should they be claimed.
At Fort Totten, 10 coffins could be arranged in a single row making it far easier to retrieve.
According to a report published by The Office of Chief Medical Examiner in 2016, city officials stated that burials on Hart Island may not be able to close should a pandemic arise that kills thousands of residents each week.
‘During a biological incident, OCME anticipates significant storage concerns due to the increased processing time and system wide delays with final disposition,’ the report reads.
‘Should the rate of death outpace available space on Hart Island, the city may need to establish contracts with public and/or private cemeteries to accommodate additional temporary interment for decedents.’