New York City will soon begin burying unclaimed bodies of COVID-19 victims at the city's public cemetery on Hart Island, where burials have increased in frequency in order to create more space in the city's morgues. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
April 9 (UPI) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's office said Thursday that many people who have died as a result of COVID-19 will soon be buried in the city's public cemetery on Hart Island.
De Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said there have not yet been any confirmed coronavirus victims buried at the cemetery on the Long Island Sound despite an increase in burials there. But he said the city will begin to bury victims of the virus there in the coming days.
"For decades, Hart Island has been used to lay to rest decedents who have not been claimed by family members. We will continue using the island in that fashion during this crisis and it is likely that people who have passed away from COVID who fit this description will be buried on the island in the coming days," Goldstein said.
New York City has recorded 5,150 coronavirus deaths, according to figures by Johns Hopkins University.
Before the pandemic, a ferry would typically deliver a truck filled with unclaimed bodies to Hart Island for burials every Thursday, but the ferries have begun to run five days a week. The city plans to run them daily to clear city morgues in order to create space for coronavirus victims.
Private contractors have been brought in to conduct the burials amid the increased volume, replacing the Rikers Island inmates usually tasked with burying the bodies for $1 per hour.
Melinda Hunt, the founder of the Hart Island advocacy group, said the city conducts about 1,100 burials on average each year and has the capacity to continue at that rate for 80 years.
The city disinters bodies at Hart Island as families claim them, free of charge.
"The city disinters on the island all the time, but because of the numbers of coronavirus victims it'll take a few years before everybody is sorted out and gets their funeral," Hunt said.