The trucks, which were brought in when the city became overwhelmed with dying patients at the start of the pandemic, are holding onto the bodies as families sort out funeral plans

By Julie Mazziotta
May 10, 2021 01:22 PM
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refrigeration trucks
Refrigerated trucks holding the bodies of COVID-19 victims sit in New York City
| Credit: Noam Galai/Getty

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the bodies of 750 people who died from the virus in New York City are still sitting in the refrigerated trucks used as temporary morgues from when the city became overwhelmed with deaths.

Officials from the city's medical examiner's office said last week that they do not yet have plans as to when they'll move the bodies, which are being held in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood. They are giving the families of the victims time to sort out funeral plans but are hoping to reduce the number of bodies "in the near future," Dina Maniotis, a deputy commissioner with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told a City Council committee Wednesday, according to nonprofit news organization The City.

Unclaimed bodies will likely go to Hart Island, in the Bronx, where New York City has buried poor or unattended bodies for more than a century.

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

The city has held on to the bodies of hundreds of COVID-19 victims since last April, when the virus overwhelmed hospitals and thousands died. Between 500 and 800 bodies have been in the refrigerated trucks at any time throughout the last year, according to news organization The City.

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The New York City's medical examiner's office has been slowly moving some of the bodies to Hart Island as many families opt for that burial option, Maniotis said, but they've also lost contact with some families as the year went on.

"Long-term storage was created at the height of the pandemic to ensure that families could lay their loved ones to rest as they see fit," Mark Desire, a spokesperson for the medical examiner's office, told the Associated Press last week. "With sensitivity and compassion, we continue to work with individual families on a case-by-case basis during their period of mourning."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, had sent 85 refrigerated trucks to New York City last year. They sat outside hospitals struggling to keep up with the number of COVID-19 deaths before moving to their current location in Sunset Park.

Fourteen months later, new COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped significantly in New York City as millions have gotten vaccinated. In April 2020, the city was seeing around 750 deaths a day — that number now hovers around 30, and cases are down to around 1,000 a day, according to The New York Times. At least 32,836 people have died from COVID-19 in New York City since the start of the pandemic.