Will New York City Begin Burials in Local Parks?

As the death toll rises in New York City, officials must come up with a new plan on how the city will handle its dead.
As the death toll rises in New York City, officials must come up with a new plan on how the city will handle its dead. (Getty)

Officials announced they will be "using a NYC park for burials" as a contingency plan as the city's death toll from coronavirus overwhelms morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries.

Confusion reigned over the way in which New York City would bury those who died from coronavirus as one official suggested public parks would become makeshift graveyards. 

"Soon we’ll start 'temporary interment,'" Councilman Mark D. Levine said on Twitter Monday. "This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line."

He said that the city’s first priority is saving lives, but as the pandemic worsens for the city by the day, officials must consider a “contingency plan” unless the death rate drops.

He explained the point of an organized plan such as this would “avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets,” but understands “it will be tough for NYers to take.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, said “I haven’t heard anything about the city burying people in parks. I haven’t heard that there’s an issue,” during Monday’s press conference.

And even though New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to confirm Levine’s conclusion during his press briefing Monday, saying “We may well be dealing with temporarily burials, so we can deal with each family later," a spokesperson from his office later denied they would be burying bodies in parks. 

"We are NOT currently planning to use local parks as burial grounds. We are exploring using Hart Island for temporary burials, if the need grows," Press Secretary Freddie Goldstein tweeted Monday afternoon.

Hart Island is located in the Long Island Sound and is considered a part of the Bronx. The uninhabited island has been used as a prison, homeless shelter and military training grounds among other things in the past. It is also a New York City-owned cemetery and is considered the largest public cemetery in the United States. More than one million New Yorkers who were never identified, or had no money or family, have been laid to rest there, according to CBS New York.

“Grieving families report calling as many as half a dozen funeral homes and finding none that can handle their deceased loved ones,” Levine said on Twitter, adding that hospital morgues, which typically hold 15 bodies, and refrigerated trucks parked outside each hospital to be used as temporary morgues, which typically hold 100, are all at or nearing capacity.

As of Monday afternoon, New York has 130,869 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 4,758 deaths, which is far higher than any other state and the reported numbers in China, the original hotspot for the virus.

“[The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME)] are now dealing w/the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11. And so are hospital morgues, funeral homes & cemeteries,” Levine said. “Every part of the system is now backed up.”

Cuomo also addressed the mounting gravity of New York's coronavirus crisis during his press conference, and said the state is reaching an apex. He said the declining number of daily deaths could indicate the state is now at a plateau, but stressed that isn't confirmed and that it isn’t clear when the state will enter a sustained decline in new cases. “If we are plateauing, we are plateauing at a very high level. Staying at this level is problematic,” he told reporters.

But Levine didn’t seem to agree. In his Twitter thread, he claimed there may be more people dying of the coronavirus than we know due to flaws in confirming coronavirus deaths.

Levine said there are too many people dying at home to test all the bodies – a crucial step in determining and classifying these victims of dying of coronavirus. “Those days are long gone … now only few who had a test confirmation *before* dying are marked as victims of coronavirus on their death certificate," he wrote. "This almost certainly means we are undercounting the total number of victims of this pandemic and still the number of bodies continues to increase.”