Deaths at home averaging 200 to 215 a day, compared to usual 20 to 25, threatening to overwhelm city’s capacity

Despite earlier reports of park burials, Mayor Bill de Blasio says such temporary interments would probably be made on Hart Island in Long Island Sound

As New York’s fatalities from the new coronavirus increase and threaten to overwhelm the city’s capacity to handle the dead, officials have begun to consider resorting to temporary burial sites, just in case.

“Soon we’ll start ‘temporary interment.’ This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials,” City Councilman Mark Levine, chairman of its Health Committee, posted on Twitter.

Deaths at home are now averaging 200 to 215 a day, compared with an average 20 to 25 a day, Levine said.

A city protocol drafted in 2008 proposed interment solutions in the event of a catastrophe resulting in too many fatalities for the city’s morgue to handle.

The Medical Examiner’s planning document does not mention parks as potential sites, but city officials have discussed locating temporary burial grounds in “fairly low-trafficked parks with open spaces”, Levine said in an interview.

“We are pretty full on capacity at temporary morgues and storage freezers now so it could be imminent unless we have a significant drop off in the number of deaths or an increase in capacity,” Levine said.

Although city officials say they are bracing for the pandemic’s brunt, the Health Department recorded 219 new daily Covid-19 deaths on Monday morning – down from 351 in the 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday.

The 24 hours before that, there were 321. These totals do not include the spike in at-home deaths that are assumed to be virus-caused, Levine said. The city’s official count was 67,820 cases of Covid-19 and 2,475 fatalities as of Monday morning.

The city would probably conduct temporary interments on Hart Island in Long Island Sound off the Bronx, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a Monday news briefing.

Remains of more than 1 million people are buried there. It has been used as a Civil War prison camp, a psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a potter’s field, a homeless shelter, a boys’ reformatory, a jail and a drug rehabilitation centre.

“We have the capacity but it’s going to be very tough. I don’t want to go into detail because I don’t think it’s a great thing to be talking about publicly,” de Blasio said.

“We have been working closely with the federal government to make sure we have the capacity. Yes, there will be delays because of the sheer intensity of this crisis. We’re going to try to treat every family with dignity, respect, religious needs of those who are devout.”

Hart Island could be problematic though, Levine said, because it is difficult for families to get to. In addition, as a property managed by the city’s Department of Corrections, it has security issues because it uses inmates as workers.

The councilman’s earlier remarks had prompted various US media reports on plans to dig trenches in parks for caskets, a claim later rejected by New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, who denied hearing anything about “the city burying people in parks”.

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