Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials were briefed that New York City’s morgues are nearing capacity as the coronavirus outbreak strikes the city, Politico reported Wednesday.
A DHS official and a second person familiar with the situation told Politico that morgues in the city are on track to reach capacity next week. Another person familiar with the situation said some of the city’s hospital morgues became full over the past seven days.
But city officials say the city has enacted plans to ready itself for “every possible outcome.”
"We're in a public health crisis, and the city has declared a state of emergency,” a city hall official said. “As part of that declaration, agencies like OCME have enacted emergency contingency plans to help prepare for every possible outcome."
Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), told Politico the concerns presented by the officials might be unfounded. She told The Hill she stands by those statements.
“We don’t want people to be alarmed and think the morgues are running out of space,” she told The Hill, stating that is not the case as the city expands its capacity.
OCME in Manhattan can hold up to 900 bodies, and every borough of the city has its own morgue, she said, according to Politico.
A former senior administration official told the news outlet that if the morgues hit capacity, the federal government can step in to help. The George W. Bush administration gave mortuary assistance after Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, the official said.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) manages the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams, which work to establish temporary morgues if local authorities request their help.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesperson said in a statement that it has received requests for these teams from Hawaii and New York and that North Carolina has requested one disaster mortuary liaison.
"These requests are currently in the review and approval process," the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) office said the City of New York and the OCME submitted requests for "additional mortuary assistance," and DHS and the New York National Guard are working to execute providing that assistance.
"The Department of Health and Human Services is working with officials in New York City to determine any gaps the city may have for forensic and mortuary services in the coming weeks so that we can provide support as needed," DHS said in a statement emailed Friday afternoon.
HHS did not respond to a request for comment.
New York has counted more than 30,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus, making up more than half of the 60,100 people across the country that have been infected, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
—This report was updated Friday at 2:06 p.m.