New York City’s Hart Island experiences increased demand for burials among pandemic

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A recent article by NPR shed light on a shocking new development in New York’s fight against COVID-19. Last week, drone footage and photos began circulating on social media of what appeared to be a mass grave on New York City’s Hart Island. Hart Island, which is located off the coast of the Bronx, has served as a burial ground for the unidentified or unclaimed dead for over 150 years. 

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed public concerns affirming that while the number of burials on the island has increased, it is not directly associated with overflow due to the death toll of COVID-19. Still, he assured the public that the only people being buried on the island are those who have gone unclaimed. The people buried there are not just victims of COVID-19 but victims of several diseases and fatalities. The unfortunate reality is that the state has experienced more deaths each day than ever before, for many reasons. New York City has had more than 92,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 5,800 deaths. The majority of the state’s fatalities have occurred in New York City. 

A spokesperson for New York’s Department of Correction who oversees the burials shared that burials on Hart Island have increased “five-fold” and have required the addition of two new trenches. According to a memo from the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, city morgues will hold a body for up to 14 days during the pandemic. Mayor de Blasio ensured the public that the city’s morgues have “the ability to deal with even more challenging situations” in terms of death tolls. In fact, the city has already enlisted refrigerated trucks to hold bodies of COVID-19 victims. In the event that temporary burials become necessary, it would be conducted on an individualized basis, so that families could reclaim the remains once the crisis is over. 

Ultimately, there is no way of knowing what the future holds for New York state or the nation as a whole. The uncertainty of the pandemic has led to unprecedented decisions on behalf of government officials and medical professionals on the front lines. At the end of the day, the well being and health of the collective is the priority, and the situation must be handled accordingly.

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