New York may bury unclaimed coronavirus victims on Hart Island, but mayor says ‘no mass burials’

New York City has ruled out using Hart Island for “mass burials” after drone footage and imagery circulated of a large trench at the public cemetery.

Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement on Twitter about Hart Island stating the public cemetery would not be used as a “mass burial” site despite reports.

“The pictures of our fellow New Yorkers being buried on Hart Island are devastating for all of us. I want to make sure everyone knows what they’re seeing and what is actually happening on Hart Island,” he wrote. “Remember, these are human beings. These are neighbours we’ve lost.”

The mayor went on to state there was no plans for any “mass burial” on Hart Island to account for people who have died during the pandemic. Instead, anyone buried there would be “treated with dignity”.

“We do not anticipate temporary burials on Hart Island except for the unclaimed,” he added.

Hart Island has been used by the city as a public cemetery for over 150 years and is managed by the Department of Correction. The Hart island burials are mostly people who have been unclaimed at the city’s morgue for anywhere from 30 to 60 days, Goldstein said.

The city is transferring unclaimed bodies to Hart Island to make way for other coronavirus victims whose bodies will be claimed, Goldstein said. New rules from the medical examiner’s office say bodies will be taken to the island if they go unclaimed for two weeks.

Only people who have not been claimed by relatives or a loved will be buried there, Goldstein highlighted.Despite the new rule from the medical examiner, Goldstein said as long as morgue officials make contact with a relative within 14 days, they will not be moved to Hart Island.

“These are people who, for two weeks, we have not been able to find anyone who says, ‘I know that person, I love that person, I will handle the burial,’” Goldstein said. “These are people who we have made zero contact with the family.”

Usually, about 25 people are buried on the island each week, Goldstein said. But since coronavirus began claiming victims in the US, she said there are 25 people buried there each day.

 

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