In a 2008 plan for a pandemic influenza outbreak, OCME noted, “It is probable that funeral directors, cemeteries and crematoria may be unable to process remains at the same rate as the OCME, due to the large influx of deaths during a PI [pandemic influenza] outbreak.”
According to the plan, the office would respond to such a crisis by enhancing its medical transport teams.
The H1N1 virus, which is not nearly as deadly as Covid-19, brought hospitals “to their knees,” said Dr. Conrad Fischer, a residency program director in internal medicine at Brookdale University Medical Center in Brooklyn.
An official with Bellevue Hospital said a temporary morgue outside NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue in Manhattan has in recent days been stood up to help house the remains of Covid-19 victims. The New York Post first reported the news.
Another issue for responders will be handling significantly more burials and cremations than they usually handle. Federal assistance might be available to help with that potential challenge, and it would need to work in tandem with state and local officials.
More than 50,000 Americans have tested positive for Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and at least 800 have died from it, according to constantly updated numbers from Johns Hopkins University. New York has been particularly hard-hit, with more than 25,000 positive cases in the state and about 16,000 in the city alone, per city and state information.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed New York state residents on March 20 to stay at home, and has temporarily banned “all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason,” per an announcement on a state government website.
A spokesperson for HHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether New York officials had asked for assistance from the teams; neither did a spokesperson for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Dept. of Health or New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.
Spokespersons for DHS headquarters also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Correction: A spokesperson for OCME clarified after initial publication that the city’s morgues across all five boroughs can hold up to 900 bodies, not just in Manhattan.