New York City had its deadliest day yet from the coronavirus, as it reported 305 new deaths Friday — bringing the Big Apple’s total death toll at 1,867. The upswing in deaths also pushes the city’s morgues to their breaking point, forcing the city to take drastic measures.
The city’s current death toll follows a surge in coronavirus cases, with the latest tally revealing a total of 56,289 confirmed cases — and increase of 6,582 from the previous day. Among these cases, 11,739 are hospitalized.
Officials are now rolling out measures to stymie morgues from filling beyond capacity, including additional requests for refrigerated trucks to hope handle the increasing number of dead bodies, on top of allowing crematories to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As more people die from the coronavirus, crematories are struggling to handle the increased number of deceased. To help address this, city regulators are now allowing them to operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Before the outbreak, crematories had operated only 10 hours a day. Even before the regulators gave their permissions, however, some crematories admitted that they were already working 16-hour days thanks to the deluge of bodies.
These crematories are handling almost three times the number of bodies that they usually do. For example, All Souls Crematory at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens now schedules up to 24 cremations a day. Just a couple of weeks ago, they were only doing about eight a day.
Not helping is the fact that there has been a disproportionate increase in cremation requests. Cremations make sense for people in a time when funeral homes and cemeteries are strictly restricting wakes and burials due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, crematory chambers, which are heated to between 1,400 and 1,800 F, can’t be run indefinitely and still need periods of rest.
“We’re straining them now by running them so long,” stated Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood Cemetery, one of four operators of crematories in New York City
City crematories are so overburdened that cemeteries outside the city, such as Ferncliff Cemetery, which sits about 10 miles north in Westchester County, have been receiving an increasing number of calls from the city.
Phil Tassi, Ferncliff Cemetery’s vice president, stated that this week along, they received 38 bodies in one day. Usually, they only process 12. To help with the load, Tassi said the cemetery is now using Sunday, where they don’t take bodies in, as a “catch-up day.”
A memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confirms that New York City officials have requested 85 more refrigerated trucks to help store the bodies of the deceased as morgue space fills up. This new batch of refrigerated trucks will add to the 45 that are already helping morgues out in the city. According to the memo, the trucks are due to arrive in the city sometime mid-April.
Even before the refrigerated trucks arrive, a Department of Defense (DOD) mortuary affairs support team has already been deployed in New York state. The team, one of two that the DOD has deployed around the country, was requested by FEMA to help deal with the rising number of deaths according to Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, Vice Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Aside from these, FEMA has also asked the DOD for 100,000 body bags or Human Remains Pouches as they’re formally known as. However, the Pentagon’s stockpile only contains 50,000 of these pouches. As such, the DOD is working with its current contractors to manufacture more to meet the need.
Even as they try to alleviate the strain caused by all the deaths, New York City officials are also concerned about the resources they need to fight the outbreak. In a recent press conference, Mayor Bill De Blasio stated that the city still needs an additional 85,000 hospital beds, 45,000 medical staff and a total of 15,000 ventilators to get through April and May.
After the press conference, officials sent an emergency alert to phones in the New York City area asking for licensed health care workers to sign up to help.
Before this, President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told De Blasio that they would be sending 200,000 N95 masks to the city. Those masks have since arrived at New York City’s public hospitals.
De Blasio also commended the governors of New York and New Jersey for taking a “crucial” step Friday by ordering private companies to release any stockpiles of much-needed supplies including ventilators and protective equipment. He then urged other states to “exercise the same approach.”