Bodies of Covid-19 victims are still in New York City freezer trucks 8 months after they died

Business Insider US
An illustration of the novel coronavirus.
  • At least 600 bodies of people who died in the coronavirus' first wave are still in freezer trucks in Brooklyn, according to The Wall Street Journal. 
  • New York City's chief medical examiner is still tracking down families to inform them of deaths earlier this year, the paper reported. 
  • Funeral costs and problems finding next of kin caused the backlog, despite officials dedicating extra staff to trying to clear it, the Journal said.
  • New York City was hit hard and early by the pandemic, and has seen more than 34,000 deaths so far. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

More than 600 bodies of New Yorkers who died in the Covid-19 pandemic's first wave are still being stored in freezer trucks, according to a Wall Street Journal report

The cost of burial and the difficulty in contacting relatives led to a backlog, the paper reported, even as the country experiences a sustained resurgence of the virus.

The temporary cold storage was set up on a Brooklyn pier to handle the overflow of deaths from the virus in late March, when New York City was the US epicentre of the surging pandemic. 

At that time, hospital morgues were running out of room, as Insider's Dave Mosher reported. The city's chief medical examiner's office became overwhelmed, according to the Journal. 

The paper said that Chief Medical Examiner Dina Maniotis and her team were faced with 200 deaths to process per day, instead of the 20 or so they were used to.

To cope with the influx of calls, more than 100 staff were redirected from the city's health department, the Journal reported.

But it was not enough to solve the backlog. The office is still trying to track down the next of kin of about 230 people from that period, per the Journal's report on Sunday November 22.

Medical staff found that in some cases, the relatives they were trying to reach had themselves died, Aden Naka, the deputy director of forensic investigations told the Journal. 

Most of the remaining deceased are still in storage due to the costs of holding a funeral, according to the WSJ. While the city increased burial assistance from $900 to $1,700 under an emergency directive, the funeral costs still remain out of many families' reach. 

A free burial is possible at Hart Island, where New York has long buried people with no known relatives, or whose families can't afford a funeral.

Maniotis told the paper the situation has been "traumatic" for families. 

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

New York was an early epicenter of the virus in the US, but has seen a comparatively mild increase in cases the virus gathered pace again more recently, as Business Insider's Susie Nielson and Morgan McFall-Johnson reported.

This, they reported, is likely down to a robust test-and-trace program and the implementation of local lockdowns during flare-ups. 

To date, more than 34,000 people to date have died in the city with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker

- Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal.

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