NYC preparing for temporary burials in city parks, official says


FILE – In this March 31, 2020 file photo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the USTA Indoor Training Center where a 350-bed temporary hospital will be built in New York. De Blasio is calling for a national enlistment program for doctors and nurses, on Friday, April 3, to handle an expected surge in coronavirus cases in New York and other places around the country. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

NEW YORK — Officials in New York City are considering temporarily burying caskets in parks if the city’s cemeteries and morgues get overwhelmed by the rising number of coronavirus deaths, according to Mark Levine, the chairman of the New York City Council’s health committee.

“NYC’s healthcare system is being pushed to the limit. And sadly, now so is the city’s system for managing our dead. And it, too, needs more resources,” Levine tweeted on Monday.

“Soon we’ll start ‘temporary interment’. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials. Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly–and temporary–manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take,” Levine tweeted.

In a news briefing on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is prepared but no plans have been put in place.

“If we need to do temporary burials to be able to tide this over to pass the crisis and then work with each family on their appropriate arrangements, we have the ability to do that,” de Blasio said. “Obviously, the place we have used historically is Hart Island.”

According to de Blasio, the city was “not at the point that we’re going to go into that.”

“We’re going to try and treat every family with dignity, respect, religious needs of those who are devout and the focus right now is to try to get through this crisis and obviously also put all of our energy and resources into saving those we can save,” de Blasio said on Monday. “That’s how we’re going to go about it. We’ll have the capacity for temporary burials. That’s all I’m going to say.”

According to Levine, the city sees 20-25 deaths in homes. That number has increased to 200.

Levine said the goal is to avoid scenes like those in Italy where the military collected bodies from churches and the streets.

Coronavirus deaths in New York state climbed to nearly 4,200. But there is a slight glimmer of hope that the spread is slowing. The state recorded a slight dip in fatalities Sunday compared to the day before.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters it was too soon to say whether the pandemic had reached its apex and urged New Yorkers to remain vigilant.

The state reported 594 new coronavirus deaths on Sunday — down from 630 new fatalities announced the day before.

The governor said ICU admissions and intubations were also decreasing slightly while the discharge rate from hospitals was rising.

More than 122,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 16,000 people have been hospitalized.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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