Hundreds of COVID-19 Victims’ Bodies Lying in NYC Makeshift Morgues

Hundreds of COVID-19 Victims' Bodies Lying in NYC Makeshift Morgues refrigerated trailers at the marine terminal A provisional morgue made up of refrigerated trailers is set up at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in New York on January 2, 2021. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Monday, 10 May 2021 02:00 PM

The bodies of nearly 750 New York City COVID-19 victims reportedly are being housed in refrigerated trucks in Brooklyn with no timetable for when the remains will be moved.

The long-term temporary morgue at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal was established during the height of the pandemic a year ago.

Dina Maniotis, a deputy commissioner with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told a City Council committee last week that the city will try to reduce the number of bodies being held on the Sunset Park pier "in the near future" and let families know about the transfers.

The City reported hundreds of bodies — fluctuating between 500 and nearly 800 — have been stored in trucks since April 2020, according to various medical examiner estimates compiled over the past 13 months by Columbia’s Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting and The City.

The bodies eventually are expected to be moved to Hart Island, the city’s massive potter’s field, or elsewhere.

Maniotis said family members of the deceased have told city officials they would prefer to have their loved ones moved to Hart Island, or they’ve stopped "engaging" with officials entirely.

"We will continue to work with families," Maniotis told the Council’s health committee Wednesday. "As soon as the family tells us they would like their loved one transferred to Hart Island, we do that very quickly."

The medical examiner’s office told The City on Thursday it would have "further discussion with the families on their final decision and the timeline."

Several council members criticized the slow burial process for those in storage, and others questioned whether state and FEMA funeral assistance programs would be sufficient.

"Why do we have these temporary storage facilities?" asked City Council member Mark Gjonaj, D-Bronx, whose district includes Hart Island. "If there is capacity and those families have already expressed the willingness to have their loved ones buried in a public burial at Hart Island, why are we delaying that any longer than we have to?"

More than one million New Yorkers, many of whom lacked the funds for a private burial, have been buried at Hart Island dating back to the Civil War.

Although about 1,200 burials were conducted annually on Hart Island in the years right before the pandemic, the medical examiner’s office said 2,666 burials were held in 2020, and 504 so far in 2021.

Statistics show 1 in 10 New Yorkers who died of COVID-19 in 2020 were interred on the island.

Run by the Department of Correction for years, Hart Island’s operation might be transferred to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The City reported the Human Resources Administration was evaluating bids.

New York City and state officials have been criticized by some people for their lockdowns and handling of the pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., has come under fire for allegedly underreporting the number of senior deaths in nursing homes after an executive order mandated hospitals in the state return discharged COVID-positive seniors back to nursing homes.