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NYC Steps Up Mass Burials

Hart Island sees 'drastic' rise in interments as morgues are cleared for virus victims
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2020 6:21 AM CDT

(Newser) More than 5,000 people have died in New York City from the coronavirus, and it looks like some of them may be headed to what the New York Daily News calls the "Island of the Dead." Hart Island, located off the Bronx and run by the Department of Corrections, is where the city sends unclaimed bodies or those who can't afford funerals to be buried. Over the past few weeks, there's been a significant spike in burials there—but not of COVID-19 patients, at least not yet, per Mayor Bill de Blasio's office. Instead, city morgues and mortuaries are clearing out other bodies to make way for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers expected to perish during the pandemic. But "it is likely that people who have passed away from [coronavirus] ... will be buried on the island in the coming days," de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein tells CNN.

Before the pandemic hit, there were about 25 bodies buried on the island per week; during the week of March 30, however, there were 125 burials. Per the BBC, drone footage emerged this week showing workers in hazmat suits on the island climbing in and out of a pit containing stacked coffins. Goldstein tells CNN that burials there are typically patients who've remained unclaimed at the morgue for anywhere from one month to two months. Due to recent circumstances, however, she notes that the medical examiner's rules have been modified so that any bodies not claimed after two weeks will be sent there for burial. Hart Island has served as one of the city's public cemeteries for 150 years, with more than 1 million people buried there—including thousands who died during the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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