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Coronavirus Update: If NYC Cemeteries Get Filled, Could Temporary Burials Happen On Hart Island?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- COVID-19 is killing New Yorkers at a rate of hundreds a day. Refrigerated trucks even sit outside some hospitals.

In addition to those sad scenes, there are concerns over the dignity of deceased who have no spot in a morgue or a cemetery right now.

On Monday, Councilman Mark Levine tipped off a firestorm of social media chaos after tweeting what a worst-case temporary burial scenario could look like.

"This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials. Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line," Levine tweeted.

When pressed on the issue, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the city may have to deal with temporary burials, CBS2's Jessica Layton reported.

"We're going to try to treat every family with dignity, respect, religious needs of those who are devout," de Blasio said.


A spokesperson for the city Medical Examiner's Office was quick to point out that right now there is no plan for any burials in public parks, and Councilman Levine later updated his Twitter by saying he learned that any temporary burials would be done on Hart Island.

In fact, it may already be happening. Melinda Hunt, the founder of the Hart Island Project, said drone video shot last week appears to show burials of COVID-19 patients who lost their battles with the virus.

"Within an hour they've buried 25 bodies, so it's a very efficient system of burials," Hart said.

The video is narrated by a Rikers Island inmate who previously was part of the burial detail.

"What did this person do in life that they ultimately wound up here alone?" the narrator says on the clip. "All we know is a name and a date of death."

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Hunt said the public cemetery on Long Island Sound is well equipped to handle the influx of remains.

"Hart Island has been used during the 1918 flu epidemic. Thousands of New Yorkers were buried there, diphtheria, tuberculosis," Hunt said.

MOREHart Island Transferred To Parks Department As Part Of Plan To Improve Access

But this time around she said it will take assistance from the military, adding the city's system for reuniting families with the deceased has worked for 150 years but patience will be key.

"We have to get through this pandemic, so it's not a quick process. But it's a very secure process," Hunt said.

It's a dire reality that the deceased need a place to go, as the city works desperately to save those who are sick.

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