NYC may temporarily bury coronavirus victims in park if morgues reach capacity, councilman says

By Mark Morales, Elizabeth Joseph and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN

    (CNN) -- New York City may need to bury coronavirus victims in a local park as hospital morgues and refrigerated trailers parked outside hospitals reach capacity, City Councilman Mark Levine tweeted Monday.

The mayor and city medical examiner's office contended, however, that capacity is not an issue.

"Soon we'll start 'temporary interment,'" Levine posted Monday morning. "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."

The burials, he added, would be done in a "dignified, orderly -- and temporary -- manner, but it will be tough for NYers to take."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters he is unaware of the prospective plan tweeted by Levine, who is the City Council's health committee chairman and who included the information in a thread of 13 tweets about the city's overburdened health care system.

"I have heard nothing about that," the governor said. "I have heard a lot of wild rumors, but I have not heard anything about the city burying people in parks."

After stopping to ask his staff if they had heard anything, Cuomo reiterated, "I talked to New York City yesterday. I have not heard that this is an issue."

In a later tweet acknowledging the attention his original tweet received, Levine said he was referencing only a contingency for which the city is prepared. "BUT if the death rate drops enough it will not be necessary," he wrote.

Levine's comments are part of New York City's mass casualty plan, his spokesman, Winthrop Roosevelt, told CNN.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has purchased additional refrigerated trucks and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided the city with 80 of its trucks, so most hospitals have one or two morgue trucks, OCME spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis said.

"We have further capacity," she said. "There are no plans to extend to a city park."

Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to provide extensive details on morgue capacity "because I don't think it's a great thing to be talking about publicly," he told reporters.

"It's going to be very tough, but we have the capacity," de Blasio said.

The military and the US Department of Health and Human Services have provided the city with substantial personnel and equipment, he said.

"We may well be dealing with temporary burials," de Blasio said. "I'm just not going to go into detail. When we have something to say on it, we will."

A copy of the OCME's 688-page biological incident fatality surge plan, provided to CNN, makes no mention of temporarily burying decedents in city parks.

The medical examiner's office may request access to public or private cemeteries or purchase space for temporary internments, it says. If the city maxes out its refrigerated storage capacity, "the need for temporary interment on Hart Island may arise."

Hart Island in the Bronx is the site of a public cemetery housing more than 1 million bodies, many of them unclaimed or unidentified. The city's Department of Corrections typically handles burials there.

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