New York City sets up 45 new mobile morgues

New York City is adding 45 new mobile morgues as in-house morgues hit capacity amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Hospitals are reporting shortages of body bags as the coronavirus death toll impacts the city's health care system, according to The New York Times.

The city's medical examiner's office has taken over the collection of bodies, sending in dozens of refrigerated trailers to aid morgues and cemeteries that are overrun by the impact of COVID-19 related deaths.

ADVERTISEMENT

As of Tuesday, the state reported a total of 83,712 cases of the coronavirus and 1,941 deaths associated with it, according to Politico.

Patrick Kearns, a fourth-generation funeral director who manages and operates three funeral homes in Queens and one on Long Island, said there is a massive delay in transferring bodies from medical facilities. 

"It's taking longer for the bodies to be released and for the bodies to be transferred," he said. "When you overwhelm the health system, you also overwhelm the death system."

Other experienced owners of funeral homes and mortuaries are reporting similar problems, a sign that the system is not ready to handle the additional casualties estimated to happen over the next few weeks.

"Most of these hospitals' morgues only have room for eight to 12 bodies," said Joe Aievoli, owner of six funeral homes in Brooklyn and Manhattan. "Now, they've been inundated with 30, 40, 50 deaths within a short period of time. They just don't have the capacity to store."

The medical examiner's office has started enacting parts of an extended plan to handle the deceased if the system is completely overrun.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Tier One" has already been activated, sending mobile cold storage units to hospitals to reduce the number of bodies being sent to mortuaries and crematories.

The second tier has yet to be enacted, but would send bodies to the potter's field on Hart Island in the Bronx, where inmates would bury the deceased at the jail on Rikers Island.

The final phase of the emergency plan would coordinate with all local cemeteries to bury the dead in the "temporary mass internment method."

"Ten bodies in caskets are placed lengthwise in a long narrow section in the ground," the plan details. "The foot end of one casket is placed in close proximity to the head end of the next."

The medical examiner's office had established the detailed plan as early as 2008 and published the "Pandemic Influenza Surge Plan for In- and Out-of-Hospital Deaths," a 93-page document detailing a solution to a scenario if the city ever experienced an outbreak with more than 50,000 dead in the course of two months.