State Watch

Hundreds of COVID-19 victims’ bodies remain in refrigerated trucks in New York

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The bodies of hundreds of New Yorkers who died from COVID-19 remain in refrigerated storage awaiting burial, officials revealed last week.

A collaborative journalism project from The City and the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University found that a fluctuating total of between 500 to 800 bodies have been stored over the past year in refrigerated trucks near the city’s Sunset Park pier as discussions continue about their final burial on Hart Island, the city’s cemetery for indigent persons, or another resting place.

Officials with the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner revealed the issue to a city council committee last Wednesday, according to the publication, stressing that many families of those whose remains are in storage have either ceased contact with city officials or have indicated that they wish their family member to be buried on Hart Island, prompting what the officials described as a quick transfer process.

“We will continue to work with families,” Dina Maniotis told the city council’s health committee, according to the news outlet. “As soon as the family tells us they would like their loved one transferred to Hart Island, we do that very quickly.”

At least one city council member questioned why there was an apparent delay in burying hundreds of New Yorkers; presently, about 750 human remains are in storage. It wasn’t clear what percentage of that number included remains for whom a family member had indicated a desire for burial on Hart Island.

“Why do we have these temporary storage facilities?” asked Mark Gjonaj (D) during the meeting, according to the City. “If there is capacity and those families have already expressed the willingness to have their loved ones buried in a public burial at Hart Island, why are we delaying that any longer than we have to?”

The Office of the Medical Examiner told news outlet in a statement after the hearing that it was continuing “further discussion[s] with the families on their final decision[s] and the timeline[s]” for the burials.

Tags Burial Cold storage Coronavirus COVID-19 Deaths New York New York City
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