What to Know
- 750 NYers who died early in the pandemic whose bodies haven't been claimed by family are being held in temporary long-term storage in Brooklyn
- Three of the five New York City boroughs rank among the six deadliest COVID counties in America, according to Johns Hopkins data
- Families who lost a loved one during the coronavirus pandemic can apply for FEMA reimbursement of funeral and burial fees up to $9,000
Nearly 14 months after New York City reported its first coronavirus-related death, roughly 750 people who died at the height of the pandemic whose bodies have not been claimed are still being held in temporary long-term storage by the medical examiner's office at a pier in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood.
The temporary morgue was created during the worst of the pandemic, when more than 800 New Yorkers were dying every day of the virus, a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told News 4.
"With sensitivity and compassion, we continue to work with individual families on a case by case basis during their period of mourning," the spokesperson said.
Some families have asked for their loved ones' remains to be buried on Hart Island, the nation's largest public cemetery, while the medical examiner's office has run into problems reaching relatives for others after making its initial contact.
Dina Maniotis, a deputy commissioner with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told a city council committee on Wednesday that many of the bodies held at the 39th Street Pier could end up buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island.
In April 2020, the city shortened the amount of time it would hold unclaimed remains to 14 days before burying them on Hart Island. At the time, officials said, they were exploring the option of interring unclaimed remains on the island temporarily so they could be moved later on.
Mark Desire, a spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office, said permanent burial on Hart Island is an option for the next-of-kin of COVID-19 victims whose bodies remain in refrigerated trucks.
“Long term storage was created at the height of the pandemic to ensure that families could lay their loved ones to rest as they see fit,” Desire said. “With sensitivity and compassion, we continue to work with individual families on a case by case basis during their period of mourning.
The non-profit news website The City reported on the matter this week. The website noted that between 500 and about 800 bodies have been kept in cold storage at any given time since April 2020.
Those figures were based on estimates by the medical examiner’s office compiled by the website and Columbia University’s Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent 85 refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues last year as COVID-19 deaths overwhelmed the city’s permanent morgues and filled storage spaces in many hospitals to capacity.
Many were parked outside hospitals and workers in protective gear used forklifts to place bodies inside in what became a grim, daily ritual.
Hart Island saw a spike in burials last year, with 2,666 laid to rest there in 2020 compared with about 1,200 in a typical year. There have been 504 burials on Hart Island so far this year.
FEMA launched a hotline in mid-April to help get burial and funeral funds into the hands of New Yorkers and other Americans who couldn't afford those expenses.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Families who lost someone to the virus that decimated lives of New Yorkers since last spring are eligible for up to $9,000. The FEMA hotline is 1-844-684-6333.
As of Friday, FEMA said it has received 17,012 applications for funeral assistance from the state of New York. Learn more about that program here.
To date, New York state has confirmed more than 42,200 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic started, nearly 23,000 of those in the city alone. Confirmed deaths mean COVID-19 is listed as a cause or contributing factor on a death certificate.
The CDC estimates thousands upon thousands of more deaths in the Empire State may be attributable to COVID-19 than have been reported.
The true toll may forever remain incalculable.
Brooklyn and Queens, the longtime two deadliest COVID counties in America, now rank second (10,223) and fifth (9,779), respectively, among U.S. counties in terms of COVID deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. The Bronx is sixth (6,492).