Health care workers are overwhelmed by the coronavirus death toll, morgues, crematories, funeral homes, and cemeteries are overwhelmed in the past few months.
Body bags are lying across the city that became the epidemic epicenter. New York State has recorded over 24,000 deaths, with a majority of this number from New York City.
Dealing with the increasing number of dead is one of the many ways life has changed in New York.
Although the city increased its capacity for storing bodies by 2,000, it’s still not enough. Funeral homes are rejecting cremations as they can’t take more bodies. Besides, a cremation chamber in Brooklyn broke down due to the overwhelming volume of corpses. They have delayed cremation to mid-May and beyond. It’s so bad that bodies lie in refrigerated trailers resting in the parking lots of funeral homes.
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Joe Sherman, the owner of Sherman’s Flatbush Memorial Chapel in Brooklyn, described the situation thus: “so many more deaths than we could have ever imagined.” He’s been doing this for 43 years, and he claimed to have never witnessed anything like it.
The grim reality of dealing with the corpses was highlighted on Wednesday when four trucks were discovered on a busy street in Brooklyn. The trucks were parked outside a Brooklyn funeral home with 60 decomposing bodies. A passerby who discovered fluids dripping from the tucks raised the alarm.
According to a law enforcement source, the particular funeral home had no more space for bodies awaiting cremation. Therefore, it had to result in trucks for storage. Another source said there was no refrigerator in any of the trucks; hence, body bags were on ice.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the situation is terrible and disrespectful to the families of the deceased. He told CNN, “that was an avoidable situation…” He proceeded to say that funeral homes could have approached them for help in lots of ways. But they remained silent.
“That’s a rarity. Overwhelmingly, even with the horrible strain and the emotional strain, funeral homes have stood by the families in the city and served them.”
Furthermore, the New York State Department of Health has revoked Andrew T.Cleckley Funeral Home license. Dr. Howard Zucker, the health commissioner, described the actions “appalling” and a big disrespect to the families of the dead, and it’s “completely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, another 18 bodies were found in New Jersey in a funeral home that’s also “overwhelmed.”
Funeral directors prioritize the living
Teamsters Local 813 secretary-treasurer, Dan Wright, said the increasing number of deaths is slowing down the back end system, crematories, and cemeteries. Teamsters Local has 500 members, including cemetery workers and funeral directors.
Wright said, “obviously, we can’t be burying people in the dark.”
Besides, with social distance, people can’t bid their loved farewell the usual way.
Furthermore, Wright added, “funerals are basically about gathering together and celebrating somebody’s life and saying goodbye.” These things have become impossible to do. Funeral directors are now policemen that prevent people from getting together, hugging, and staying close to each other.
The Brooklyn funeral homeowner, Sherman, said the priority now is to protect clients and workers. Also, providing enough personal protective equipment and enforcing social distancing.
He said in dealing with the pandemic, the main concern is the living.
Sherman’s funeral home now handles all businesses online and over the phone. So, there’s no face-to-face meeting with mourning families.
Sherman said, “we don’t want people in the building.”
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