KEY POINTS

  • A New York city official said the city may soon hold 'temporary burials' for COVID-19 victims
  • The plan is a contingency but may not be needed if death rates drop enough
  • If it pushes through, the temporary burials will be held on Hart Island

New York City is now looking at temporary burials for the victims of COVID-19, according to a lawmaker. The move comes as morgues and hospitals in the city struggle to keep up with the rising number of deaths.

"It will be done in a dignified, orderly – and temporary – manner. But it will be tough for New Yorkers to take," city health committee chairman Mark Levine wrote in a series of tweets. "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."

According to Levine, the trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line and, he noted that they may be conducted in local New York City parks. His initial tweets received a lot of attention, so he clarified that the temporary burials are merely a contingency that the city is preparing for but, it may not even push through if the death rate in the city "drops enough" or if the city gets to secure additional freezers.

Hours later, Levine tweeted again, announcing that the city government gave "unequivocal assurance" that no temporary burials will be held in New York City parks. Instead, if the temporary burials will really be needed, they will be held on Hart Island, which is the site of a public cemetery that houses over one million bodies.

Asked about the possibility of conducting temporary burials, Mayor Bill de Blasio simply confirmed that New York City has the capacity for temporary burials but, did not go into further details. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the other hand, noted that he was unaware of the plans that Levine tweeted about.

Regarding the plan, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis noted that the city so far has "adequate space." In fact, OCME has purchased additional refrigerated trucks, so most hospitals in the city already have one or two morgue trucks, each with the capacity to hold 100  bodies. However, as Levine noted even these trucks are now "mostly full."

"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." Levine tweeted. "This is tough to talk about and maybe tough to ask for. But we have no choice. The stakes are too high."

As of April 6, New York City has reported 68,776 cases and 2,738 deaths.

Medical staff move bodies from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to a refrigerated truck in Brooklyn, New York Medical staff move bodies from the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to a refrigerated truck in Brooklyn, New York Photo: AFP / Angela Weiss