Temporary COVID-19 burials in NYC parks if death rate doesn’t drop, councilman says

As US COVID-19 deaths near 10,000, N.Y. Gov. Cuomo, Dr. Birx hopeful spread could soon slow down

A Samaritan’s Purse crew works on building a 68 bed emergency field hospital specially equipped with a respiratory unit in New York’s Central Park across from The Mount Sinai Hospital, Sunday, March 29, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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NEW YORK — As the COVID-19 death toll in New York City continues to rise, concerns are being raised about the city’s ability to manage the dead.

Manhattan City Councilman Mark Levine, who is chair of New York City Council Committee on Health, suggested on Monday that if the number of fatalities continues to rise, the city may be forced to use parks for temporary burials.

“And still the number of bodies continues to increase. The freezers at OCME facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn will soon be full. And then what?” Levine tweeted. “Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly — and temporary — manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take.”

More than 2,600 people in New York City have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak began.

The councilman later clarified that this would only be done if the death rate continues to climb.

“If the death rate drops enough it will not be necessary,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, said the city is not planning to use local parks at this time.

“We are NOT currently planning to use local parks as burial grounds. We are exploring using Hart Island for temporary burials, if the need grows,” press secretary Freddi Goldstein tweeted.

Hart Island serves as the city’s public cemetery and is the final resting place of over 1 million people.

Earlier Monday, de Blasio said the city has the capacity for temporary burials but declined to give further details.

“We may well be dealing with temporary burials,” the mayor said.

Levine, meanwhile, said the Office of the City Medical Examiner needs more staff and resources to manage the crisis.

“Grieving families report calling as many as half a dozen funeral homes and finding none that can handle their deceased loved ones,” Levine added. “Cemeteries are not able to handle the number of burial requests and are turning most down

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon that he spoke with city leaders on Sunday and was not aware of any crisis with the ability to bury COVID-19 victims.

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