NYC morgues near capacity, DHS briefing warns

The Department of Homeland Security has been informed that the morgues in New York City are almost full, according to a ministry official and a second person who is familiar with the situation.

The officials were informed that the morgues in the city are expected to reach capacity next week, according to the briefing. A third person, familiar with the situation in New York, said that some of the city’s morgues have been overloaded in the past seven days.

If the available morgue in New York City fills with an increasing number of COVID-19 deaths, federal aid will be available, a former senior government official said, noting that the George W. Bush administration had provided mortuary help to Katrina after the hurricane and the September 11 attacks.

The Ministry of Health and Human Services oversees the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT), which can help build temporary morgues. The teams respond to requests from local authorities.

At the moment, city officials don’t seem particularly worried. Aja Worthy-Davis, spokeswoman for the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), said concerns about the capacity of the mortuary may be unfounded. In Manhattan alone, the OCME mortuary could store up to 900 bodies. The city has a mortuary for each of the five districts, she said.

“We have the ability to expand fairly dramatically,” she said. “If you look back at what we did during September 11th, we can create mobile stations that allow us to house bodies when we run out of space.”

However, New York City has not recently dealt with mass victims as often as Covid-19.

“All hospitals in the city typically have small morgues. Given the capacity of New York City hospitals, they may be expected to run out of mortuary,” added Worthy-Davis.

in the a 2008 plan for an influenza pandemic outbreakOCME commented, “Funeral directors, cemeteries and crematoriums are unlikely to be able 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 strengthening its medical transportation teams.

The H1N1 virus, which is nowhere near as deadly as Covid-19, brought hospitals “on their knees,” said Dr. Conrad Fischer, program director of internal medicine at Brookdale University Medical Center in Brooklyn.

A Bellevue Hospital official said a temporary morgue has been set up outside NYC Health + Hospitals / Bellevue in Manhattan in the past few days to house the remains of the COVID-19 victims. The New York Post first reported the news.

Another problem for the emergency services is to treat significantly more burials and cremations than usual. Federal assistance may be available to address this potential challenge and would need to work with government and local officials.

More than 50,000 Americans have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and at least 800 have died as a result of constantly updated information numbers from Johns Hopkins University. New York was particularly affected, with more than 25,000 positive cases in the state and approximately 16,000 in the city alone per city and state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed New York State residents to stay at home on March 20 and temporarily banned “all nonessential gatherings of people of any size for any reason.” by announcement on a website of the state government.

A HHS spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comments as to whether New York officials had asked the teams for support. Neither a spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Health, nor the office of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The spokesman for the DHS headquarters also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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