Refrigerator trucks parked outside hospital doors, overwhelmed undertakers, and talk about temporary burials in parks: America’s coronavirus epicentre of New York is grappling with how to deal with the dead.
As the Big Apple’s death toll from COVID-19 soared to 3,485 Monday, images of bodies covered in sheets being transported on stretchers by health workers in protective suits are a common sight outside hospitals.
The trucks are storing bodies that are accumulating too quickly for funeral directors to pick them up directly from hospitals.
On Monday morning, AFP saw nine bodies loaded into trucks outside Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn.
Several undertakers interviewed by AFP said they were struggling to deal with New York state’s coronavirus death toll of more than 500 a day.
Between Friday and Saturday, a high of 630 deaths were recorded.
‘The majority of funeral homes do not have refrigeration or (have) limited refrigeration,’ said Ken Brewster, owner of Crowe’s Funeral Homes in Queens.
‘If you don’t have the space... you need those trucks,’ added Brewster, whose small business has been bombarded with requests for funeral services for COVID-19 patients over the past week.
Pat Marmo manages five funeral homes across the city.
He is finding it difficult to cope with the stress generated by influx of bodies, particularly because he himself just lost a cousin and close friend to the pandemic.
‘The hospitals are pushing (us). They want the people picked up (as quickly as possible) and the funeral homes don’t have the facilities to handle these bodies,’ he said.
Marmo estimates that his homes are currently dealing with three times more bodies that normal and that burials will last well into next month.
‘It’s almost like 9/11, going on for days and days and days,’ he said, referring to the worst terror strikes on US soil back on September 11, 2001.
Undertakers are so overcrowded that a city official raised the possibility Monday of carrying out temporary burials in a public park.
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