Centuries from now, historians will be writing (or whatever the equivalent will be) about how we handled–and didn’t handle–the coronavirus/COVID-19 that has, to date, killed over 118,000 people worldwide.
A vestige of this pestilence are mass graves visible from outer space.
Last month, we saw satellite images of mass graves in Iran.
Now New York has had to dig them.
For more than 150 years, Hart Island, the former prison for Confederate soldiers located a mile off the Bronx coast, served as a potter’s field, a cemetery for over one million individuals whose identities were either unknown at their deaths or whose families could not afford burial.
Before the coronavirus, burials on the island had begun to decrease.
Normally, Rikers Island jail inmates dig graves for 25 bodies a week for once-per-week burials.
That rate has increased to 25 bodies per day, five days a week.
Rikers inmates have been temporarily relieved of this duty.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday a response to people’s concerns over the burials’ apparent ignominy:
“There will be no mass burials on Hart Island. Everything will be individual and every body will be treated with dignity. The heartbreaking numbers of deaths we’re seeing means we are sadly losing more people without family or friends to bury them privately. Those are the people who will be buried on Hart Island, with every measure of respect and dignity New York City can provide.”
“A Hart Island burial is not disrespectful. It’s a very sacred place.”
Hart Island burials are not disrespectful now that inmate labor has ended. There is not enough testing to know how many people buried died of complications from COVID-19. You need to visit Hart Island and honor the buried. Many families have no choice. https://t.co/jICf5HSYPk
— Melinda Hunt (@hartisland) April 11, 2020
Press secretary Freddi Goldstein told CNN:
“It is likely that people who have passed away from [coronavirus]…will be buried on the island in the coming days.”
As with the million already interred, the bodies to be buried on Hart Island are those families have not claimed.
The NYC medical examiner’s office stated bodies must go unclaimed for two weeks before being transferred to the island.
“These are people who, for two weeks, we have not been able to find anyone who says, ‘I know that person, I love that person, I will handle the burial. These are people who we have made zero contact with the family.”
Brooklyn undertaker, Thomas Cheeseman, said funeral homes are so backed-logged, many individuals will end up being temporarily interred.
De Blasio spokeswoman, Aja Worthy-Davis, confirmed:
“The city may explore the option of temporary burials in Hart Island if necessary.”
“We, the funeral directors, are overwhelmed. We’re inundated. The crematory can’t even take bodies for two weeks. The funeral homes don’t have refrigerated trucks parked out front.”