NYC Morgues, funeral homes are overwhelmed and the death toll keeps climbing

Nation/World

Funeral directors in New York are bracing for a worst-case scenario as the death toll keeps rising daily.

There are 41,771 positive cases of Covid-19 in New York City and 1,096 fatalities, according to the mayor’s office. And there are at least 8,400 people hospitalized, with nearly 1,900 of those in the ICU.

The director of New York State Funeral Directors Association told CNN funeral directors have seen a surge in the number of deaths since the weekend.

Mike Lanotte says his association comprises roughly 950 funeral homes across New York state. He says there are about 155,000 deaths that occur annually in the state, roughly 425 a day. This past weekend, Lanotte said they saw 475 related Covid-19 deaths in just two days.

“We are doubling the death toll on a daily basis,” he said.

The morgues are at capacity and trucks have been brought in to store the additional deceased, Lanotte said. And now the concern is what happens next?

“The problem is funeral directors and cemeteries have decided to reduce staff because of Covid-19 and they are burying fewer people per day, you are going to have a bottleneck of bodies if they are unable to bury in a timely manner,” Lanotte said.

Lanotte said immediate family members are allowed to attend ceremonies at funeral homes, based on recent guidance from the governor’s office. The governor’s office has said immediate family should be limited to as few people as possible while maintaining social distancing, according to the association.

“It’s not ideal by any stretch, but funeral directors are certainly working with families, and families are very understating of what the circumstances are,” Lanotte said.

A few funeral homes have reported back to Lanotte that in order to accommodate a larger group of friends and family, some people have arranged Skype or Facebook livestreams of the ceremonies, “and they have worked pretty well under the circumstances.”

As for protecting their staff, funeral directors are concerned about the lack of PPE right now given the need to maintain proper universal precautions when picking up the deceased from hospitals.

“Worst case scenario would be similar to the churches in Italy with caskets stacked on top of each other,” Lanotte said. “I’m not saying we are there, but no one wants to get there.”

“We are working on trying to resolve the bottleneck so that we can get back to a normal level of operations during the pandemic,” he said.

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