Bodies of hundreds who died during New York coronavirus surge are still being stored in freezer trucks

Alex Woodward
·3 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Bodies of more than 600 people who died from the coronavirus in New York City earlier this year remain in freezer trucks used as temporary morgues, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

About 650 bodies remain inside makeshift morgues on the Brooklyn waterfront, according to the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, which told the newspaper that the city either cannot find families for many of the dead or their families cannot afford a proper burial.

Medical examiner officials told The Wall Street Journal that the office has not been able to find relatives of 230 people. But financial constraints have prevented many families from being able to relocate the bodies of their relatives, the office said.

The report follows a dramatic rise in new Covid-19 infections across the US, which has surpassed 12 million case since the onset of the crisis more than eight months ago.

Nearly 25,000 people in New York City have died from coronavirus-related illness, with an infection rate averaging roughly 2.5 per cent within the last week, according to the city’s health department, as of 21 November.

Hospitalisations also are rising – more than 500 people are currently hospitalised, far less than the more than 12,000 at the peak of the outbreak in the spring, when roughly 1,200 patients were admitted daily in April.

A recently report from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 30 per cent of coronavirus patients admitted to the city’s hospitals earlier this year did not survive.

Refrigerated morgue trucks across the city’s boroughs to assist the city’s overstressed hospital system in the spring became emblematic of Covid-19’s overwhelming impact in the city.

Shocking images from the deadly months of April and May showed footage from a potter’s grave on Hart Island, which the city has used to bury unidentified or unclaimed bodies for more than 150 years, as workers in white protective gear buried bodies in simple wood coffins in deep trenches on the island.

The footage underscored a wider issue of the deaths of marginalised New Yorkers as well as the city’s overtaxes healthcare systems. City officials struck back at reports stoking fears of “mass graves” ahead of surging infections.

"These are people who no one after a period of time has claimed them, and not just Covid victims, but victims of all diseases, all reasons for fatality," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference in April. "Because there's just been unfortunately more people passing away, including those who are not claimed by any family, that's what's been happening at Hart Island, but that's the only thing that's been happening at Hart Island."

Bodies of more than 2,000 people have been buried on Hart Island in 2020, as of October, more than double the number from 2019, when 846 New Yorkers were buried on the island.

The city increased its burial assistance to $1,700 from $900 in May, which still falls significantly behind the average cost of traditional burial services of roughly $9,000, according to the New York State Funeral Directors Association. A typical cremation with service costs about $6,500, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Last week, officials effectively shut down a Brooklyn funeral home that housed dozens of decomposing bodies inside two trucks outside the business when its mortuary ran out of space.

The state health commissioner revoked the funeral director’s license and the mortuary’s business registration at Andrew T Cleckley Funeral Home, following several lawsuits targeting the owners and other funeral directors who operated out of the business.

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