In a shocking example of just how bad things are in New York City, Mark Levine, the chairman of the New York City Health Committee said in a Twitter thread that the system for handling dead bodies is so overwhelmed that the city will resort to burying the dead in parks.
Calling the pandemic “the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11,” Levine said that every aspect of the system is now “backed up.” That includes hospital morgues, funeral homes, and cemeteries.
Levine goes on to explain that 80 refrigerated semi-trailers had been deployed around the city to supplement hospital morgues. Hospital morgues hold about 15 bodies and the trailers can hold 100 bodies each. Some hospitals have two or three trailers but are still running out of room.
The Coronavirus deaths are in addition to the 20-25 deaths that would occur in New York on an average day. The pandemic has increased that number by a factor of 10 to more than 200 daily deaths.
COVID-19 deaths may even be undercounted. Levine says that attempts to test people who died at home for the virus have failed because of the lack of test kits.
Due to the increasing number of bodies, Levine says that the city will soon start “temporary interments” in mass graves in city parks. Ten caskets will be buried in a single trench in what he calls a “dignified, orderly – and temporary – manner.”
Levine closes his thread with a request for doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists from other parts of the country to help New York’s deluged medical professionals. He also asks for aid from mortuary professionals.
“Nothing matters more in this crisis than saving the living,” Levine says, “But we need to face the gruesome reality that we need more resources to manage our dead as well.”
The horrifying news that New York is unable to cope with the volume of its dead is one more piece of evidence that the Coronavirus pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime medical crisis. Conspiracy theorists who question whether hospitals are really overwhelmed and who postulate that the media is blowing the disaster out of proportion put even more lives at risk.
The news also underscores that people who insist that the American economy should be reopened immediately are deeply and dangerously wrong. Prematurely reopening businesses would have the same effect as the calls by New York’s city leaders in February for New Yorkers to attend public events. It would allow the virus to spread quickly through other cities and states.
In a few weeks, much of the rest of the country could look like New York.
UPDATE: New York officials are backing away from the plan to use city parks for temporary burials. The press secretary for Mayor Bill De Blasio tweeted that the city was “exploring” the use of Hart Island, a small island northeast of New York City in Long Island Sound for the burials. There is already a cemetery located on the island.
Independent reporter Zack Fink also tweeted that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that he would not allow park burials.
It seems likely that the park burials were seriously considered but were quickly nixed by the governor and the mayor.
-DWT 4/6/20 1:24pm