New York, NY – New York City is considering options for temporary mass graves to accommodate all of the dead bodies that have already started stacking up as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the city.
On Monday, New York City Councilman Mark Levine created somewhat of a panic after he tweeted that the city was considering digging mass graves in city parks to temporarily hold caskets, Bloomberg reported.
“We are running out of freezer space. We will find a NYC park and put people in trenches 10 in a line. It will be dignified and it will be orderly,” Levine said, according to ABC News.
Levine is the chairman of the city council’s health committee.
He explained in a series of tweets that the contingency plan’s goal would be to “avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets,” ABC News reported.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted that officials were exploring solutions for the problem of how to deal with the number of corpses resulting from the pandemic, but said that any mass burials would be done out on Hart Island, where the city’s indigent are buried, and not in parks, Bloomberg reported.
“If we need to do temporary burials to be able to tie this over, to pass the crisis, and then to work with each family on their appropriate arrangements, we have the ability to do that,” de Blasio told reporters, according to ABC News.
Levine said that city protocol for interment solutions was covered in a 2008 document from the Medical Examiner’s Office, Bloomberg reported.
That protocol does not mention city parks.
The medical examiner’s report called for a “temporary mass internment method” whereby caskets would be lined up side-by-side in shallow graves, 10 at a time, and buried, ABC News reported.
That protocol would avoid stacking the bodies and reduce the amount of digging when they were later disinterred for proper burial.
However, Levine said city officials had talked about digging temporary mass graves in “fairly low-trafficked parks with open spaces,” Bloomberg reported.
“We are pretty full on capacity at temporary morgues and storage freezers now so it could be imminent unless we have a significant drop off in the number of deaths or an increase in capacity,” the city councilman warned.
Levine posted a tweet that updated the information he had released earlier in the day on Monday evening.
“I have spoken to many folks in City gov’t today, and received unequivocal assurance that there will be *no* burials in NYC Parks. All have stated clearly that if temporary interment should be needed it will be done on Hart Island, 1/2,” Levine tweeted.
“And that of course if such burials are required they will be done in a dignified, orderly, professional manner. Let’s all keep working hard to slow this virus so that such steps are not in fact needed. 2/2,” he added.
Hart Island currently holds the remains of more than a million New Yorkers, Bloomberg reported.
The island has gone through a series of iterations, including a stint as a Civil War prison camp, a psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a homeless shelter, a boys’ reformatory, a jail, a drug rehabilitation center, and finally a potter’s field where the city indigent are buried if their remains are unclaimed or their family cannot afford burial.
Prisoners from nearby Rikers Island dig the graves and handle the burials on Hart Island.
The New York State Funeral Directors Association said there are about 350 funeral homes in New York City and some are already at capacity, especially in Queens and Brooklyn, ABC News reported.
Almost 77,000 residents of New York City have tested positive for coronavirus as of Tuesday and 4,111 of them have died, WABC reported.