As the morbid details come to light, it is estimated that more than 700 victims of the coronavirus are still chilling inside dozens of refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks lined up on a Brooklyn waterfront. The makeshift graveyard was created at the height of the pandemic more than a year ago, but next to nothing has been accomplished since that time to give these people a proper burial.
At a special New York City Council committee hearing May 5, an official from the Medical Examiner’s office admitted the tractor-trailer set-up at the 39th Street Pier was supposed to be a short-term solution on where to put all the dead bodies. Medical Examiner spokesman Mark Desire said, “With sensitivity and compassion, we continue to work with individual families on a case by case basis during their period of mourning,” according to the New York Post.
It goes without saying that cold-storing the corpses of deceased family members for months on end does not appear particularly sensitive or compassionate. Could it be that no one is paying attention, or might it be a political hot potato for a governor who has been in the COVID spotlight for some time now?
It has been reported that many families have asked that their loved ones be laid to rest in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island. City Councilman Mark Gjonaj rightly queried why these people had not yet been buried. So, what is the reason for the hold-up?
In saying they are trying to give families “the time they need” to decide what to do, the Medical Examiner’s office has waited so long it has apparently lost contact with many relatives and is now caught in a bind. “The arrangement was always intended to be temporary,” said Dina Maniotis of the New York M.E.’s office.
According to the Associated Press, the tractor-trailers were initially provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to serve as temporary morgues.” Next-of-kin could not have imagined their deceased loved ones would still be stacked up in the refrigerated trucks more than a year later. Such as it is, the situation defies the label “temporary.”
Initially, some 1,300 bodies were put into the makeshift “cold storage,” so it seems that some people were able to retrieve the bodies of their family members. But so many corpses languishing appears to be a dereliction of duty on the part of state and city officials who need to get off the schneid and do something. New York might reasonably be tagged as the epicenter of how not to handle a pandemic. One would think that after being flayed by the media, Governor Andrew Cuomo might put his personal differences aside and place a call to Mayor Bill de Blasio to come up with a way to solve this dilemma.
New York state and city officials should provide a more civilized method to deal with those in their jurisdiction who have passed away. Such as it is, the fact that this morbid situation remains unsolved demonstrates that New York is no longer the most livable city in America — it is no place to die, either.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.