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750 COVID-19 Victims Being Stored in Refrigerated Trucks in NYC

At least 750 bodies are still being stored in refrigerated trucks in New York City, more than a year after the trucks were first established as temporary morgues to increase space while deaths skyrocketed during the city’s worst outbreak.

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On Friday, the city medical examiner’s office said the bodies are being kept in long-term storage in refrigerated trailers at the 39th Street Pier in Brooklyn while families sort out plans to have them moved, the Associated Press reported.

“Long-term storage was created at the height of the pandemic to ensure that families could lay their loved ones to rest as they see fit,” said Mark Desire, a spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office. “With sensitivity and compassion, we continue to work with individual families on a case by case basis during their period of mourning.”

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

The Statue of Liberty is visible behind refrigerator trucks intended for storing corpses in a lot at the 39th Street Pier in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on May 6, 2020. New York City is still using refrigerated trucks to store bodies of coronavirus victims, more than a year after they were first set up as temporary morgues as deaths surged at the height of the pandemic.
Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

Dina Maniotis, a deputy commissioner with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, said Wednesday that many of the bodies held in trucks could end up buried on Hart Island, a large public burial site located off of the Bronx.

According to an analysis of city data from March, as many as one-tenth of the total people who have died from the coronavirus in New York City may be buried on Hart Island, the New York Times reported.

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In April 2020, the city shortened the amount of time it would hold unclaimed remains to 14 days before burying them on Hart Island. At the time, officials said, they were exploring the option of interring unclaimed remains on the island temporarily so they could be moved later on.

Desire said permanent burial on Hart Island is an option for the next-of-kin of COVID-19 victims whose bodies remain in refrigerated trucks.

The nonprofit news website The City said this week that between 500 and about 800 bodies have been kept in cold storage at any given time since April 2020.

Those figures were based on estimates by the medical examiner’s office compiled by the website and Columbia University’s Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent 85 refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues last year as COVID-19 deaths overwhelmed the city’s permanent morgues and filled storage spaces in many hospitals to capacity.

Many were parked outside hospitals and workers in protective gear used forklifts to place bodies inside in what became a grim, daily ritual.

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NYC COVID trucks
Bodies of about 750 people who died of COVID-19 are still being held in refrigerated trucks in New York City. Above, the Statue of Liberty is seen behind the trucks that function as temporary morgues at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal on May 25, 2020, in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

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