Burials Delayed, Morgues Overwhelmed By NYC COVID-19 Death Rate

Some hospitals, News 4 New York has learned, are taking several days to release death certificates, and even more days to release bodies

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Funeral home and cemetery directors in New York City suggest the COVID-19 crisis has burdened the "aftercare industry," resulting in the delay of some burials while a number of hospitals have a buildup of bodies that go days without aftercare.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths - 1,867 in New York City as of Friday - has resulted in burial delays longer than a week, some city funeral directors say. Some hospitals, News 4 New York has learned, are taking several days to release death certificates, and even more days to release bodies.

One New York City cemetery director says she receives up to six calls about funerals and visitations "on a normal day." On Thursday, she had over 100 calls.

Another city cemetery director said the next burial her team can handle is one week from this Saturday. Their cemetery staff is booked up and split into A and B teams to try to keep workers safe.

"The cemeteries cannot handle the volume. They are only accepting a certain number of bodies per day," said Amanda Vaphides of Cherubini McInerney Funeral Home on Staten Island.

“Families are being understanding, but it doesn’t make it easier," she said.

One funeral home director said a family has been waiting more than nine days to have a loved-one’s body released from Elmhurst hospital. There was a paperwork mistake and, as of Thursday, they can’t get the doctor and the medical examiner's office on the phone at the same time to fix because both places are busy with the flood of work. For now, the body sits in the hospital morgue.

The medical examiner's office has declined to comment and a Health and Hospitals spokesperson did not respond when asked for comment.

In the Bronx, the Montefiore Medical Center acknowledged delays "dealing with the sobering realities of deaths associated with both COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients."

"All of our Bronx campuses have refrigerated trailers on site to assist with the above process, and are used if needed," said Elizabeth Kaledin of the Bronx hospital. "We are currently in discussions with funeral home directors to assess the most appropriate way to handle the deceased. Recently, we have been storing some bodies longer than usual, but we are in constant communication with the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and New York City Emergency Management Department, as well as funeral home directors.”

So far, the Archdiocese of New York has been able to keep up with burial requests and services. Joe Zwilling - spokesperson for the archdiocese that run burial services in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester County - says they are aware of potential issues with backlogs at some hospital morgues.

Zwilling says Calvary Cemetery and Gates of Heaven cemeteries are moving forward with funerals while obeying social distancing practices and limiting attendance under 10. Other than funeral services, no visitations are being allowed at cemetery grave sites.

The Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed there had been burial delays, and were set to enact changes to help alleviate the "dreadful situation." Catholic cemeteries will increase daily staffing with staggered schedules, burial hours will be extended to being at 8 a.m. and arrival times for funerals will be set 15 minutes apart.

An email to City Hall and NYC Health Department was not immediately returned.

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