Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Aerial Photos Show 50 Trucks Filled with Bodies of 650 unclaimed COVID-19 Dead

 Haunting photographs show an aerial view of freezer trucks that have been converted into makeshift morgues that hold the unclaimed bodies of 650 COVID-19 patients parked along a Brooklyn waterfront.

The upsetting images show some 50 trucks lined up neatly in the parking lot of the 39th Street Pier in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn.

The emergency morgues were set up after the city’s mortuary facilities and private funeral homes were overflowing with dead bodies during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when New York City was America’s virus epicenter.

The city continues to hold the bodies there because 230 of the deceased are of people whose next of kin have yet to be contacted, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A spokesperson for the city’s chief medical examiner’s office said it is not uncommon to hold bodies of those who have been estranged from loved ones or whose contact information for next of kin is old or outdated.

In some cases, the deceased’s next of kin are themselves deceased, according to city officials.


Those whose relatives have been contacted have yet to collect the bodies because they cannot afford the exorbitant costs of a proper burial.

In New York, the average cost of a traditional burial can hover around $9,000 while a typical cremation costs around $6,500, according to the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

As the pandemic claimed more dead, the city boosted its burial assistance to residents from the usual $900 to $1,700 - still well short of meeting the average cost.

Families that are unable to afford these options could ask the city to bury their loved ones for free on Hart Island, the small piece of territory in the Long Island Sound just off the coast of The Bronx.

Hart Island is where the city maintains a grave site for the poor and needy. In pre-pandemic times, unclaimed bodies would have been interned on the island, one of the largest public cemeteries in the country.

Hart Island is operated by the city’s Department of Correction. Its burials have traditionally been done by inmates at the nearby Rikers Island jail.

During the first three months of the pandemic beginning in March, the city reported 203,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 18,679 people died and more than 54,000 people had been hospitalized.

In total, more than 24,000 New York City residents have died from COVID-19 related illness. More than 301,000 city residents tested positive for the disease.

The city numbers make up the brunt of New York State figures, which show more than 33,800 deaths and 607,000 cases.

In May, as the city struggled to grapple with the growing piles of bodies, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would hold off on conducting mass burials and that efforts would be made to notify next of kin.

Staffers at the city medical examiner’s office were simply ill-equipped to deal with a once-in-a-century pandemic.

The unit employs just 15 people whose job it is to identify bodies while seven others are tasked with contacting their relatives.

In normal, pre-pandemic times, the unit could deal with 20 deaths a day. At the height of the pandemic, it was inundated with a crush of some 200 new cases per day.

The lack of manpower led to weeks- and even months-long delays in notifying worried loved ones who kept calling the office seeking information about death certificates, the viewing of bodies, and funeral arrangements.

Lea-Anne Carafa was notified of the death of her husband, from whom she had been separated, three months after he was found dead in his bed.

Frank Joseph Carafa died of cardiovascular disease in his Manhattan apartment on May 6. His wife, who lives in Westchester County, was only told on July 28.

Frank’s death certificate does not mention COVID-19 a contributing factor in his death.

Before the pandemic, the office fielded up to 40 calls per day. At the peak of the pandemic, it was getting 1,000 calls per day.

City officials said they are sensitive to the needs of bereaved New Yorkers who must now be guided through the delicate task of claiming the bodies of their loved ones.

‘This has been traumatic,’ Dina Maniotis, the executive deputy commissioner of the chief medical examiner’s office, told The Wall Street Journal.

‘We are working with [next of kin] as gently as we can and coaxing them along to make their plans.

‘Many of them will decide they want to go to Hart Island, which is fine.’

When city officials are unable to track down next of kin, they try to identify the body through forensic means, including fingerprints, medical or dental records, or DNA data.

Officials also comb through police records or other available documentation.

The city has slowly managed to reduce the load of unclaimed bodies. In mid-September, it was holding 698 corpses.

It plans to continue using the truck freezers until the pandemic is declared over. That could be a while.

New York’s governor said on Monday he is reopening an emergency COVID-19 field hospital on Staten Island as the number of infections keeps climbing, the first such facility in the state to relaunch since the state partly tamed the pandemic over the summer.

The temporary hospital on the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Hospital cared for 200 patients in spring, when New York City's hospital wards were overwhelmed with seriously ill and dying coronavirus patients.


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