In New York City’s potter’s field, a jump in burials is tied to the virus.
For years, every Thursday was burial day on Hart Island, the final resting place off the Bronx for New York City’s unclaimed dead.
But as with many things, coronavirus has changed all that.
Burials are now being done five days a week at Hart Island, with roughly 25 bodies lowered into trenches each day, according to a city official. That is as many burials as would typically be done in a week before the virus hit.
Drone footage and images have circulated of burial crews in freshly dug muddy trenches burying body after body in bare wooden boxes.
In the past, the city’s morgues had adequate space to hold the unclaimed dead for 30 to 60 days before they were buried on the island. But now, with the pace of the Covid-19 death toll increasing, the city is moving to bury more of those people to clear space in the morgues.
“Because we didn’t have pressure on the system, we didn’t have to move them quickly,” the official said. “We are now burying people who have been sitting with us for quite some time.
The official said that it is possible that the burial of the unclaimed bodies of Covid-19 victims has already begun, because people have been dying of the virus for weeks.
“We know that if it didn’t happen yesterday it’s only a matter of days until people are buried because of the time that has passed,” the official said on Friday morning, referring to victims of the disease.
Contract workers are now doing the burials, rather than the Rikers Island inmates who normally do them, the official said.
The official stressed that the only people being buried are those for whom the city has been unable to contact next of kin for some time.
“We understand extenuating circumstances,” the official said, noting that bodies that have not been claimed because their families are under quarantine or on lockdown or for some other reason, will not be buried on Hart Island.
Some New Yorkers fleeing the city may have brought the virus along.
In the quaint seaside resort of Cape May at New Jersey’s southern tip, a 30-year-old man from New York City was the county’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus.
In Greene County, N.Y., home to the Catskill Mountains, the first four confirmed virus cases were all people from New York City.
As the coronavirus exploded in New York City, leaders and residents of areas that are seasonal refuges and second homes for city dwellers called for outsiders to stay away. fearing that an influx of people could strain resources, from supermarkets to parks, and overwhelm small hospitals.
“If I was in New York City and I had a place up here, I’d be here,” said Shaun Groden, the Greene County administrator. “But I’m not going to come here with some false sense of security that once you get upstate, you’ll be taken care of. It’s just the opposite.”
Throughout the region, the virus seems to be mostly following a logical pattern of infection, growing outward from its epicenter of New York City.
Fire Department data shows that 1,125 patients were pronounced dead in their homes or on the street in the first five days of April, more than eight times the 131 deaths recorded during the same period last year.
Paramedics are not testing those they pronounce dead for the virus, so it is almost impossible to say how many of the people were infected with it. Some may have been tested before they died and either were not admitted to hospitals or were discharged.
But the huge jump in the numbers suggests that the virus was involved in many of the recent deaths.
“The driver of this huge uptick in deaths at home is Covid-19,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday. “And some people are dying directly of it, and some people are dying indirectly of it, but it is the tragic ‘X’ factor here.”
Nearly 120 morgue workers and soldiers are working around the clock to retrieve the bodies of up to 280 people a day who are dying at home in New York City, many of them probably having succumbed to the coronavirus without being counted in the official death toll.
The chief medical examiner’s office is overseeing the grisly task, with the help of more than 100 soldiers from the U.S. Army, the National Guard and the Air National Guard, officials said. Many of those involved in the operation have special training in processing human remains.
Fifteen four-person teams are working during each 12-hour shift, driving mostly rented vans, said Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.
Plans to turn the Cathedral of St. John the Divine into a 200-bed coronavirus field hospital were abruptly shelved on Thursday. The official reason given by public officials was that a leveling off in virus-related hospitalizations in New York City had made them reassess the need for the project.
But behind the scenes, Episcopal leaders said they were upset by the role played in the project by an evangelical humanitarian organization whose approach to L.G.B.T. issues runs counter to that of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which is based out of the cathedral.
The group, Samaritan’s Purse — which the diocese did not realize was involved — is led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who has been criticized for anti-Muslim and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric. The organization’s statement of faith includes a belief that “marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
The role of Samaritan’s Purse in responding to the coronavirus outbreak in New York first drew criticism last month when the group, in partnership with the Mount Sinai Health System, built a field hospital in Central Park.
Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference last week that the city had received assurances from Samaritan’s Purse that it would follow local anti-discrimination laws in providing treatment.
And the relatively few motorists left on the road — many of whom are performing essential work — can get where they’re going a lot fast: rush-hour speeds on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway have soared to 52 miles per hour, from 13 m.p.h.
But a lot more people appear to be speeding. Even with far fewer people on the roads, automated speed cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets citywide on March 27, nearly double the 12,672 tickets issued daily a month earlier, according to city data.
The extraordinary shift offers a glimpse of what one of the world’s most gridlocked cities could look like without congestion and provides an unexpected case study for transportation officials and experts wrestling with how to manage limited street space for ever more users, including ride-share drivers and delivery trucks hauling Amazon boxes.
Testing centers will open in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.
Amid growing concern over the pandemic’s disproportionately high toll on Latinos and African-Americans, who are twice as likely to die from the virus in New York City, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced five new testing facilities in several Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx neighborhoods that are majority-minority.
One has already opened: a drive-through mobile testing center in the parking lot of the Aqueduct Race at 110-00 Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone Park, Queens. A second drive-through will open at 12:30 p.m. on Friday in the parking lot of the Sears department store at 2307 Beverly Road in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Three walk-in facilities will open next week at health care centers Jamaica, Queens; the South Bronx; and in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
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Reporting was contributed by Matthew Haag, Winnie Hu, Corey Kilgannon, Andy Newman, Sarah Maslin Nir, William K. Rashbaum, Liam Stack and Tracey Tully.