New York Buries Unclaimed Bodies at Rapid Pace to Clear Space in Morgues for Coronavirus Victims

Drone pictures show bodies being buried on New York's Hart Island. (Reuters)

Drone pictures show bodies being buried on New York’s Hart Island. (Reuters)

A city official said that burials are now being done five days a week at Hart Island, with roughly 25 bodies lowered into trenches each day, instead of the regular Thursday slot.

  • PTI New York
  • Last Updated: April 10, 2020, 11:27 PM IST

New York is burying unclaimed bodies at a rapid pace to clear space in the city’s morgues where mortal remains of coronavirus patients are piling up, according to a media report.

A report in The New York Times said every Thursday was burial day on Hart Island, the final resting place off the Bronx for New York City’s unclaimed dead.

“But as with many things, coronavirus has changed all that,” it said.

Burials are now being done five days a week at Hart Island, with roughly 25 bodies lowered into trenches each day, according to a city official.

“That is as many burials as would typically be done in a week before the virus hit,” the report said.

Drone footage and images of burial crews in freshly dug muddy trenches burying body after body in bare wooden boxes are circulating on social media.

New York is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US and is seeing record number of deaths. The state recorded the highest single day death toll for the third consecutive day on Thursday as 799 people died due to the deadly viral infection.

So far more than 7,000 people have died in the state from COVID-19, several times more than the total number of people killed in the devastating 9/11 terror attacks.

The report quoted a city official as saying that the only people being buried at the island for now are those for whom the city has been unable to contact next of kin for some time.

“We understand extenuating circumstances,” the official said, noting that bodies that have not been claimed because their families are under quarantine or on lockdown or for some other reason will not be buried on Hart Island.

The report said the city’s morgues used to have adequate space to hold unclaimed bodies for 30 to 60 days before they were buried on Hart island. But now, with the pace of the coronavirus death toll increasing, the city is moving to bury more of those people to clear space in the morgues.

“Because we didn’t have pressure on the system, we didn’t have to move them quickly,” the official said, adding, “We are now burying people who have been sitting with us for quite some time.”

The official said it is possible that the burial of the unclaimed bodies of COVID-19 victims has already begun, because people have been dying of the virus for weeks.

“We know that if it didn’t happen yesterday, it’s only a matter of days until people are buried because of the time that has passed,” the official said on Friday morning, referring to victims of the disease.

Contract workers are now doing the burials, rather than the Rikers Island inmates who normally do them, the official said.

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