If the death rate from the novel coronavirus doesn’t drop soon, New York City could start digging trenches in a city park to temporarily bury the bodies of those who have died from COVID-19, a city councilman said.
“This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right),” Mark Levine, the chair of the New York city council health committee, tweeted. “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.”
He added, “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.”
In a follow-up tweet, Levine clarified that the park burials were a “contingency plan” that would not have to be implemented if the death rate continues to overwhelm city resources.
The Italian military used trucks to transport “dozens of coffins” to cremation sites in the country from the city of Bergamo in northern Italy, the worst-hit city in the country, because local morgues could not handle the number of bodies. At least 15,000 people have died from the disease in Italy, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), however, said: “There is currently no plan to inter in city parks.”
“As part of the wider surge plan, this is mentioned as a possible scenario. So I can’t speak for him, but that might be the document he’s citing,” she told the Business Insider. “But at this point in time, there is no plan to inter at city parks. We currently have adequate space for decedents.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo similarly said he has “heard nothing about that”.
“I’ve heard a lot of wild rumors, but I’ve heard nothing about the city burying people in parks,” Cuomo said during his daily press conference on Monday.
In a series of tweets, Levine explained how the number of bodies has overwhelmed the city’s hospitals, and warned that “the freezers at OCME facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn will soon be full.”
Worthy-Davis said OCME has provided 45 refrigerated 53-foot semi-trailer trucks to hospitals for added temporary storage, (not 80 as Levine had claimed). The trailers can store around 45 bodies each, and up to 100 if shelving is added.
In total, OCME has expanded its storage capacity from 900 in its morgues across the five boroughs of the city to more than 3,500. She noted that the Office of Emergency Management has also provided refrigerated trucks to hospitals.
“We’re providing what is essentially a morgue extension so that decedents can be processed as quickly as possible and families can make arrangements they wish to make,” Worthy-Davis said.
According to New York City’s existing contingency plan for a “biological outbreak,” which was created in 2008 over Bird Flu fears, prison labor would be used to dig mass graves to bury victims.
Inmates on Rikers Island would be transported to Hart Island to dig mass graves where the dead could be buried, and cremation efforts would be increased, according to a previous Business Insider report.
Worthy-Davis said the city is using Hart Island. “We continue to inter at Hart Island, which is the location of New York City’s potters field. Some of those decedents are possibly COVID-19 decedents.”
Levine did not mention Hart Island or prison labor but instead called for volunteers to help.
“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,” he tweeted. “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.”
“Deathcare” workers in New York City are “overwhelmed” by the number of bodies of people who have died from COVID-19.
“I don’t know how many more bodies I can take,” Patrick Marmo, a New York licensed embalmer based in Brooklyn, told Business Insider’s Dave Mosher. “No one in the New York City area possibly has enough equipment to care for human remains of this magnitude.”
Health and government officials have warned that the next two weeks could be particularly bleak as the number of deaths is expected to rise across the country, but particularly in hotspots like New York. The virus has infected more than 122,000 in the state of New York and killed at least 3,048 people in NYC.
“Nothing matters more in this crisis than saving the living. But we need to face the gruesome reality that we need more resources to manage our dead as well. Or the pain of this crisis will be compounded almost beyond comprehension,” Levine tweeted.