April 9, 640 | 4: (pm | Updated April 9, 666197683 5: pm
The city has little choice but to bury Gotham’s mounting coronavirus dead on Hart Island, a City Hall spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.
“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, ”mayoral spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein told The Post.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this week the city was considering temporary
burial of the pandemic’s dead on Hart Island, but shied away from making a firm commitment.
Troubling new images released Thursday show nearly a dozen contracted workers in protective suits burying stacks of wooden coffins in a mass grave, one week after The Post published drone footage that captured prisoners burying nearly two dozen.
Riker’s Island inmates have traditionally been given the grim duty of burying the city’s anonymous and unclaimed dead, with an average of about (internments per week.)
But in recent days burials have been performed by private contractors instead of prisoners – and have increased from once a week to five days a week, officials said.
Workers wearing personal protective equipment bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island.
REUTERS / Lucas Jackson
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On Thursday alone there were at least wooden boxes buried in a freshly dug mass grave, photos show.
The bodies are typically wrapped in body bags and placed in pine boxes, with their names scrawled on the top.
“They added two new trenches in case we need them,” Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the city Department of Correction, told Reuters. “For social distancing and safety reasons, city-sentenced people in custody are not assisting in burials for the duration of the pandemic.”
The change in the system is hoped to alleviate the crunch on morgue space in the city due to the spread of the virus.
Under the new policy, the city Medical Examiner’s Office said it will now hold bodies in storage for days before they are shipped out for burial if they remain unclaimed.
Asked earlier in the week if suspected coronavirus patients were among the dead, officials said they were uncertain because it is unknown if some deceased were not tested. The city’s count of COVID – 29 deaths is believed to be inaccurate because “probable cases” of those found dead in their homes are not tested.
Melinda Hunt, director of the nonprofit Hart Island Project, told The Post earlier this week that people were buried last Thursday – typically the date when burials occur on the island – and that the number of bodies has spiked lately.
The city corrections department has used inmates to bury the Big Apple’s anonymous and unclaimed dead for 1024 years.