New York City hospitals are running out of room in their morgues, but the flow of coronavirus bodies is just starting to ramp up

Empty NYC coronavirus
Empty NYC coronavirus

REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

  • The global fatality rate of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus has doubled over the past 2 months.

  • New York City is now an epicenter of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with more than 17,000 confirmed cases of at least 450,000 worldwide.

  • A licensed funeral director and embalmer, who works for a company that removes bodies, said hospital morgues are seemingly full of COVID-19 bodies while the city — the backup option for hospitals — seeks additional temporary storage.

  • FEMA told Business Insider the city has requested emergency mortuary assistance through a disaster response program.

  • Politico reported Wednesday that, according to an unnamed Department of Homeland Security official, the city expects to exceed its own capacity next week.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

New York City is running out of room to store the bodies of those who've died from COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus that emerged less than 3 months ago.

The city has become an epicenter for the spread of the novel coronavirus due its role as a global hub of travel, tourism, and commerce.

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a press conference that the state has more than 30,000 confirmed cases — in part due to dramatically expanded testing — of which about 17,000 are from NYC.

"We're not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own," Cuomo previously said, in another press conference on Tuesday. He added that the state's projection for hospital beds it will need at the peak of the outbreak will be around 140,000 — though it currently has only 53,000.

COVID-19's global death rate from January through March has doubled. Out of 300 known deaths in New York, the virus is confirmed to have killed 199 people in the city. Cuomo said cases, and deaths, are going to increase in the coming weeks.

Patients with the coronavirus are overwhelming hospitals

Hospitals around the city are beginning to find themselves overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, many of which require intense and long-term critical care to treat respiratory failure.

As increasing numbers of people die from the illness, relatively small hospital morgues around the area are filling up. That's according to a licensed funeral director, embalmer, and body removal expert who works for a company handling transport of most COVID-19 bodies in the city.

"On Sunday the morgues already seemed full," said the mortuary professional, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of their work, adding that there are typically only one or two corpses on Sundays. (Business Insider confirmed the person's identity.)

"You have to wait for the tests to come back before making the removal for our safety," they said, and due to a sometimes days-long lag in that testing "the death toll from COVID currently is much higher than it is in the news."

As a result of the uptick in COVID-19 deaths, relatively small hospital morgues are reaching or exceeding their capacity. When that happens, the person said, excess bodies are sent to the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) temporary storage facilities.

Yet even the city is now looking to the private industry to handle a possible overflow of the deceased, though that has not yet happened, the person said.

'We have the ability to expand dramatically'

coronavirus covid 19 hospital makeshift morgue manhattan new york city nyc reuters 2020 03 25T180117Z_1297549065_RC26RF91AAB0_RTRMADP_3_HEALTH CORONAVIRUS USA.JPG
Workers construct what is believed to be a makeshift morgue behind a hospital during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City on march 25, 2020.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The situation has grown serious enough that the Department of Homeland Security has been briefed on the matter by New York City officials, who said the city may run out of capacity to store bodies next week, according to reporting by Politico published on Wednesday.

Politico, citing unnamed officials, said New York state more broadly has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for "emergency mortuary assistance."

Aspokesperson for FEMA independently confirmed the information with Business Insider.

"FEMA's National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) has received requests for HHS Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT) from the States of Hawaii, New York, and North Carolina," the spokesperson said in an email. "These requests are currently in the review and approval process."

Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokesperson for OCME, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider. Politico reported that Worthy-Davis said the city has "the ability to expand pretty dramatically" its mortuary services.

"If you look back at what we did during 9/11, we have the ability to create mobile stations that allow us to house bodies if we run out of space," she reportedly said.

That expanded capacity may be appearing as refrigerated tent facilities that resemble makeshift morgues, the New York Post reported Tuesday. The tents, refrigeration units, and an OCME vehicle were spotted by the outlet adjacent to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan (though OCME is located next door to the hospital).

The mortuary services professional told Business Insider that the city definitely needs additional temporary storage to handle the increasing numbers of the dead.

"I watch these Cuomo press conferences, and he said they're opening up the Javits Center for medical care. I think that's great, but they need to open up temporary morgues to hold all of these bodies," the person said. "I don't think we need another Javits Center-size building, but some other storage facility with additional capacity."

Jake Lahut contributed reporting to this post.

Read the original article on Business Insider