Hundreds of bodies from New York virus surge still stored in freezer trucks

Hundreds of bodies remain in storage in freezer trucks in New York months after their deaths during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, The Wall Street Journal reported.



a man riding on the back of a truck: Hundreds of bodies from New York virus surge still stored in freezer trucks


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Hundreds of bodies from New York virus surge still stored in freezer trucks

City officials told the Journal that there are about 650 bodies in storage on the 39th Street Pier in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the bodies are largely those of people who could not afford a burial or whose next of kin could not be located.

Such bodies would ordinarily have been buried on Hart Island, according to the newspaper, but Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) pledged in April that those burials would not occur during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 230 victims’ relatives have not yet been located, the chief medical examiners’ office said. Officials said relatives have not had the money to collect the bodies in other cases.

The city nearly doubled the burial subsidy it offers in May, the Journal noted, but the $1,700 offered is still far short of the $9,000 average cost for a traditional burial or the $6,500 cost of a service and cremation.

Dina Maniotis, the chief medical examiner’s office’s executive deputy commissioner, told the newspaper that while anyone has the right to request a free burial on Hart Island, numerous family members are not clear on their options.

“This has been traumatic,” she said. “We are working with them as gently as we can and coaxing them along to make their plans. Many of them will decide they want to go to Hart Island, which is fine.”

Aden Naka, the office’s deputy director of forensic investigations, added that the unit is only equipped to handle about 20 deaths per day, about one-tenth of those it was faced with at the height of the pandemic in the city.

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new restrictions, packed ICUs and refrigerated units for bodies

When the coronavirus pandemic hit its first peak in the spring, it took a dramatic toll on the nation: States ordered their residents to stay at home to control the surge. Patients packed into overcrowded hospitals. And millions lost their jobs.



a person walking down a street next to a car: A nurse pulls out a testing swab at a newly opened mega drive-thru site at El Paso Community College Valle Verde campus on July 21, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. As coronavirus deaths surge past 4000 in Texas, overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to plan for extra refrigerated storage to hold deceased patients. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)


© Cengiz Yar/Getty Images
A nurse pulls out a testing swab at a newly opened mega drive-thru site at El Paso Community College Valle Verde campus on July 21, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. As coronavirus deaths surge past 4000 in Texas, overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to plan for extra refrigerated storage to hold deceased patients. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)

Now, six months later, it seems history may be repeating itself, with cities ordering curfews, hospitals reaching their capacity and cases continuing to surge.

At 69,967 new cases per day, the seven-day average of new cases is at the highest levels since the pandemic began, bringing the national death toll to 225,720, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

All these factors have led health experts to confirm their fall prediction: The dreaded second surge of the virus is here.

As a result, many hospitals are having to resort to opening alternative sites or even “rationing” their care, meaning they’re determining what patients get the highest levels of treatment.

In Utah, hospitals could be days away from using a patient’s age, health and other factors to decide who can remain in overcrowded intensive care units due to an onslaught of Covid-19 cases.

“It’s a complex way of taking account of every patient’s situation, age, health, and the ability to survive,” Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, told CNN affiliate KUTV. “It’s a system of grading patients.”

There are over 8.6 million cases in the US as of Tuesday, and over 225,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Funeral homes are running out of space

In the spring, New York City brought in refrigerated trucks to Brooklyn to store bodies — a move designed to help funeral directors overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

The deaths had strained funeral homes’ ability to keep up with the number of funerals and cremations needed in New York, then the epicenter of the pandemic.

Now, a surge of coronavirus cases in El Paso, Texas, is leading funeral homes to make similar plans.

Part of that effort, two funeral homes told CNN, is to prepare additional refrigeration units to house bodies if their usual space isn’t enough.

Sunset Funeral Homes in El Paso has added three walk-in refrigeration units for bodies, manager Christopher Lujan told CNN on Thursday.

Lujan said most of the deaths his business is seeing are related to Covid-19.

Perches Funeral Homes General Manager Jorge Ortiz told CNN he’s added two more coolers. His business has also seen a rise in Covid-19 related deaths in the past two weeks.

“I would say maybe 15% to 20% of all the services we are getting now are Covid cases,” Ortiz said.

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