NEW YORK (AP) – New York City still uses refrigerator trucks to store bodies of coronavirus victims more than a year after they were first set up as temporary morgues when deaths increased at the height of the pandemic.
The city’s medical examiner’s office said Friday that 750 bodies are being stored long-term in refrigerated trailers at a Brooklyn pier while family members work out plans for their final resting places.
Dina Maniotis, an assistant commissioner for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told a city council committee Wednesday that many of the bodies held on the 39th Street pier could be buried in the town’s pottery field on Hart Island.
In April 2020, the city cut the time it would keep unclaimed remains to 14 days before they were buried on Hart Island. At the time, officials said, they were investigating the possibility of moving unclaimed remains to the island temporarily for later relocation.
Mark Desire, a doctor’s office spokesman, said a permanent burial on Hart Island was an option for the next of kin of COVID-19 victims, whose bodies remain in refrigerated trucks.
“At the height of the pandemic, long-term storage was put in place to ensure families could rest their loved ones at will,” Desire said. “With sensitivity and compassion, we continue to work with individual families on a case-by-case basis during their time of grief.
The nonprofit news website The City covered the matter this week. The website found that between 500 and about 800 bodies have been kept in the cold store at any given time since April 2020.
These numbers are based on medical practice estimates compiled on the Columbia University website and Stable Center for Investigative Reporting.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent 85 refrigerated vehicles as temporary morgues last year as COVID-19 deaths overwhelmed the city’s permanent morgues and overcrowded storage rooms at many hospitals.
Many were parked in front of hospitals, and workers in protective gear used forklift trucks to haul corpses in a somber, daily ritual.