Covid-19 dead temporarily buried on a New York island?

The idea thrills. It is however well under study in New York: the city could have to temporarily bury its dead of the coronavirus, on an island off the Bronx, the storages of bodies in the mortuaries and the refrigerated trucks being soon at their maximum capacities and the funeral directors, overwhelmed. Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, confirmed that the scenario was a possibility, as mentioned Monday by Mark Levine, a city councilor in charge of health. But no decision has yet been made. Everything will depend on the evolution of the pandemic in the coming days.

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“We are not there yet”

Has Mark Levine been too alarmist? On Twitter, his argument, which is cold in the back, has in any case earned him many reactions. The facts first: New York is in the midst of a health emergency, the shortage of medical equipment and personnel threatens and the management of bodies is a real problem. The town’s morgues are overcrowded, the funeral homes and crematoriums overcrowded. Some even refuse to take care of people who have died from Covid-19. Hospital mortuaries can generally contain around 15 bodies, while 45 refrigerated trucks are now parked nearby. Bodies, covered with sheets, are placed there with the aid of forklifts, in plain view of passers-by and neighbors. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Situations Agency, has pledged 85 more trailers. Each can contain 100 deaths.

Words that disturb, then. These: “Soon we will begin the ‘temporary burial’. This will likely be done by resorting to a New York park for burials (yes, you read that right). Trenches will be dug for rows of 10 coffins. It will be done in a dignified, orderly and temporary manner. But it will be difficult for the people of New York to accept, ”writes Mark Levine. These words were shocking. And immediately aroused a flood of questions. It’s the worst-case scenario, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Already in 2008, the city had, in a “Pandemic Plan”, considered solutions for “temporary burials” and mentioned New York public parks as a fallback solution. Monday morning, in front of the press, Bill de Blasio did mention the possibility of “provisional burials, to be able to troubleshoot until the end of the crisis, and then work with each family to find the most appropriate arrangements”. But he immediately added: “We are not there, I will not go into details.”

Bodies that nobody claims

Mark Levine, he found it necessary to clarify his words. “The plan to temporarily bury the dead in a city park, or other public space, is a ‘contingency’, which could be avoided if the death toll drops significantly, or if we find a way to secure refrigeration space required. I should have been clearer about this, ”he said on Twitter. “Any temporary burial plan on public property will be carried out with care, respect and orderly by the Medical Examiner’s Office. Once the crisis is over, the people of New York will be able to offer their loved ones a decent burial ”. He calls the pandemic “the most painful thing our city has known for generations.” “It is devastating for our health system and our care system for the deceased”. For him, broaching the subject, however delicate it might be, was necessary. The public should know.

He maintains that this is not a vague assumption. The New York medical examiner’s office would prepare for it. “People who lose someone to this virus sometimes call half a dozen funeral directors, and there is no way they can use their services anymore,” he noted in an interview with NPR. “You really can’t have a burial in a cemetery now. Their resources are depleted and they do not have the capacity to handle the number of people who need a burial. ”

The New York Times don’t hesitate to talk about mass graves (mass graves). Central Park, which already hosts a tented field hospital near Mount Sinai Hospital, would it be an option? Apparently not. Bill de Blasio recalled Monday that historically Hart Island, a small island off the Bronx, was used in such cases. Over a million bodies have been buried there since 1869.

It is on this island of 400 meters by 1.6 kilometers that have been buried for years the bodies of the destitute that no one claims. Their graves are dug by prisoners from Rykers Island, a neighboring island. Hart Island has served as a Civil War prison camp, a mental institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a burial place for the homeless and unknown, and the stillborn. The island also housed a correctional house for boys, a prison, a detoxification center and a MIM-3 Nike Ajax anti-aircraft missile base during the Cold War.

It was there again that AIDS patients were buried from the start of the pandemic in 1985, which had particularly affected New York. Many funeral directors refused to take charge of these deaths. Mass graves of 21 meters each contain around 150 bodies. Around 1,500 people are still believed to be buried each year on Hart Island, in some mystery. Neither the Penitentiary Department that administers the island nor the New York Medical Examiner’s Office confirms whether the bodies currently buried there are linked to the pandemic, specify it Daily Intelligencer. The island remains almost inaccessible to the public.

After discussions with his colleagues from the city council following the reactions triggered on the Internet, Mark Levine now seems to think that it is this option which would prevail if the needs increase. And not that of resorting to a park in the heart of Manhattan or Brooklyn. On this chaotic day on Monday, Freddi Goldstein, the press secretary for New York City, spoke in this direction. She also specified that “the incarcerated people will not take care of the burials”, and recalls that usually the digging of the graves is done “on a voluntary basis and for 6 dollars an hour”.

Epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, New York State accounts for nearly half of the cases of contamination recorded in the country, and almost as many in terms of the number of deaths. New York City is very affected. Many deaths from the coronavirus still go under the radar, according to Mark Levine. Before the pandemic, an average of 20 to 25 people per day died at home in the metropolis. This figure would now be around 200, and these people are not subjected to post-mortem screening tests. The Department of Defense and the National Guard have already sent back up personnel to help New York City deal with pandemic-related deaths.


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