Hundreds of people dying in their homes or on the street in New York City are not being including in the coronavirus death count even if they had symptoms – suggesting the city may be significantly under-counting its COVID-19 fatalities.
Data from the NYC fire department shows that 1,125 people died in their homes or on the street in the first five days of April alone, which is more than eight times the number of deaths recorded this time last year when when 131 people died.
The daily tally of residents who died at home with coronavirus-like symptoms exploded from 45 on March 20 to 241 on April 5, the data shows.
The fire department data is based on information collected during 911 calls involving cardiac or respiratory arrest with fever and cough – symptoms that are in line with severe coronavirus cases.
While those symptoms could also fit diseases such as influenza, the steep rise coincides with the surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in New York City.
Hundreds of people dying in their homes or on the street in New York City are not being including in the coronavirus death count even if they had symptoms – as the city shortens the amount of time it will hold unclaimed remains before they are buried on Hart Island
Between March 20 and April 5, the number of coronavirus-like cases, including patients who survived, tripled from 94 to 322.
The percentage of calls in which paramedics could not save the person rose from 48 percent percent to 75 percent.
Paramedics have not been testing people for coronavirus if they die at home or on the street.
It suggests that the soaring death toll from the virus could be much higher than currently reported.
The death toll in New York City increased by 518 on Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths to more than 4,700.
The number of infections increased by 7,500 to bring the total cases to more than 87,000.
As New York City deals with the mounting coronavirus death toll and dwindling morgue space, the city has now shortened the amount of time it will hold unclaimed remains before they are buried on Hart Island – the city’s public cemetery.
Under the new policy, the medical examiner’s office will keep bodies in storage for just 14 days before they’re buried in potter’s field on Hart Island.
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.
Data from the NYC fire department shows that 1,125 people died in their homes or on the street in the first five days of April alone, which is more than eight times the number of deaths recorded this time last year when when 131 people died
Typically, about 25 bodies are buried there once a week by low-paid Rikers Island jail inmates. That number began increasing last month as the new coronavirus spread rapidly and New York became the epicenter of the pandemic.
They are now burying about two dozen bodies a day, five days a week.
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.
Prisoners from Rikers Island are usually brought in to dig graves on Hart Island but the Department of Corrections has since hired contracted laborers to carry out the work due to the outbreak.
‘For social distancing and safety reasons, city-sentenced people in custody are not assisting in burials for the duration of the pandemic,’ DOC Press Secretary Jason Kersten told DailyMail.com. ‘Contracted laborers are performing this important work under DOC supervision.
‘Burial operations at the city cemetery remain uninterrupted and they continue to be supervised by DOC, which has been performing this solemn duty on Hart Island for over 150 years and will continue to do so until the jurisdiction of Hart Island moves to Parks in 2021.’
About a dozen workers were seen digging and burying the caskets – some of which had names carved into them – on Thursday as at least one refrigerated truck was brought onto the island
Those dressed in hazmat suits had to use a ladder to get down into the mass grave on Thursday as the new caskets were buried. They were watched by a corrections officer (far right)
At least 45 caskets – some of which had names carved into them – appeared to be buried in the mass grave on Thursday morning alone
For burial on the island, the dead are wrapped in body bags and placed inside pine caskets. The deceased’s name is scrawled in large letters on each casket, which helps if any body needs to be exhumed later. The caskets are buried in long narrow trenches excavated by digging machines.
The chief medical examiner’s spokeswoman, Aja Worthy-Davis, said on Thursday it would take time to collate individual causes of death from the office’s records, but that it was probable some of the recent burials include those felled by the coronavirus.
OCME can store about 800 to 900 bodies in its buildings and also has room to store about 4,000 bodies in some 40 refrigerated trucks it can dispatch around the city to hospitals that typically have only small morgues.
The city’s 2008 Pandemic Influenza Surge Plan states that Hart Island would be used as a temporary burial site in the event the death toll reaches the tens of thousands and other storage is full.
Brooklyn undertaker Thomas Cheeseman said funeral homes are so backed up, some people will inevitably end up being temporarily interred.
Cheeseman said the new deadlines are putting a strain on funeral homes as more and more families seek arrangements for loved ones fallen by coronavirus.
‘We, the funeral directors, are overwhelmed,’ Cheeseman said.
‘We’re inundated. The crematory can’t even take bodies for two weeks. The funeral homes don’t have refrigerated trucks parked out front.’
The caskets were stacked three on top of each other in the mass grave as inmates used a digger to help transport the bodies
Mayor Bill DeBlasio said earlier in the week that 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
Normally, about 25 bodies bodies are buried each Thursday on Hart Island. That number increased to 72 since the end of March when coronavirus fatalities increased drastically in the city, according to the Department of Corrections