Why the true COVID-19 death toll could be much higher

Why the true COVID-19 death toll in NYC could be much higher: Only those tested BEFORE they die are counted as virus victims, says Big Apple councilman, as the city records 3,400 fatalities

  • The chair of NYC council health committee Mark Levine tweeted on Monday 
  • He said only people confirmed to have the virus before they die are being ‘marked as victims of coronavirus’ resulting in the ‘undercounting’ of deaths 
  • Levine said morgues in NYC are ‘dealing with the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11’
  • On an ‘average day’ before this crisis there were between 20 and 25 deaths at home in NYC; Levine said there are now between 200 and 215 every day 
  • Across the nation as of Monday night there are over 368,254 cases of the virus 

Only those tested before they die are counted as COVID-19 victims, a New York City councilman said Monday, sparking fears the actual death toll could be far higher than the 3,400 already recorded. 

Mark Levine tweeted: ‘Now only those few who had a test confirmation *before* dying are marked as victims of coronavirus on their death certificate. This almost certainly means we are undercounting the total number of victims of this pandemic.’

The chair of NYC council health committee was commenting on how the city is ‘managing its dead’ with morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries ‘dealing w/ the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11’. 

Levine said ‘on an average day’ before this crisis there were between 20 and 25 deaths at home in NYC. He said there are now between 200 and 215 every day and ‘most of these people are not tested for coronavirus’.  

Across the nation as of Monday evening there are over 368,254 cases of the virus with hotspots in New York, Michigan and Louisiana. Deaths from COVID-19 in New York City soared to 3,485 on Monday. 

The US is now barreling towards the infection’s projected peak day on April 16 when experts predict there will be over 3,000 deaths in 24 hours. The death toll reached 11,000 across the country Monday.

Only those tested before they die are counted as COVID-19 victims, a New York City councilman said Monday, sparking fears the actual death toll in the United States could be far higher than the 11,000 already recorded

Hospital workers are seen transporting a body to a portable morgue outside of the hospital

Military personnel walk past refrigeration trucks being used as a temporary morgue parked outside of Bellevue Hospital, New York, as the number of coronavirus deaths continues to rise

Of the situation in NYC Levine tweeted: ‘A typical hospital morgue might hold 15 bodies. Those are now all full. 

Mark Levine, pictured, said morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries are ‘dealing w/ the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11’

‘So OCME has sent out 80 refrigerated trailers to hospitals around the city. Each trailer can hold 100 bodies. These are now mostly full too. Some hospitals have had to add a 2nd or even a 3rd trailer.’

He said families report ‘calling as many as half a dozen funeral homes and finding none that can handle their deceased loved ones’. 

Cemeteries are said to be turning down ‘most’ burial requests. 

Suggesting the death toll from COVID-19 may be higher than the official figures reports Levine adds: ‘It’s not just deaths in hospitals which are up. 

‘On an average day before this crisis there were 20-25 deaths at home in NYC. Now in the midst of this pandemic the number is 200-215. *Every day*.

‘Early on in this crisis we were able to swab people who died at home, and thus got a coronavirus reading. But those days are long gone. 

‘We simply don’t have the testing capacity for the large numbers dying at home.’ 

Coronavirus dead across New York could be temporarily buried on Hart Island as morgues across the city start to overflow.

America’s coronavirus epicenter of New York is grappling with how to deal with the dead as the disease has brought the city to its knees. 

As the Big Apple’s death toll from COVID-19 soared to 3,485 on Monday, images of bodies covered in sheets being transported on stretchers by health workers in protective suits are a common sight outside hospitals.

Bodies are moved to a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue at Wyckoff Hospital in the Borough of Brooklyn on April 6

The trucks are storing bodies that are accumulating too quickly for funeral directors to pick them up directly from hospitals.

One suggestion was that the former Cold War missile site at Hart Island on Long Island Sound, which was also used as a Civil War prison camp and a burial site during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, would be used for temporary graves. 

The mayor’s spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, stressed that the city government was not considering using local parks as cemeteries.

But she added that Hart Island, where around one million New Yorkers are already buried in mass graves, may be used ‘for temporary burials, if the need grows’.

Interments of coronavirus fatalities on the island may already have taken place.

Melinda Hunt, the founder of the Hart Island Project, said drone video footage shot last week appears to show burials of COVID-19 patients who passed away. 

Levine had earlier said the city will start temporarily burying coronavirus victims in public parks in trenches dug for 10 caskets if the death roll keeps climbing past a rate hospitals and morgues can keep up with.  

Levine had said: ‘Soon we’ll start “temporary interment”. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line. It will be done in a dignified, orderly–and temporary–manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take.

‘The goal is to avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets.’  

The comments caused quite a stir in America’s most populous city, which has already been transformed by the pandemic, including in Central Park where a field hospital is tending to virus patients.

Levine later updated his remarks by saying he understood any temporary burials would be carried out on Hart Island rather than public parks.

He added: ‘I have spoken to many folks in City gov’t today, and received unequivocal assurance that there will be *no* burials in NYC Parks. All have stated clearly that if temporary interment should be needed it will be done on Hart Island.’ 

Refrigeration trucks being used as a temporary morgue parked outside of Bellevue Hospital

Bodies are moved to a refrigeration truck serving as a temporary morgue at Wyckoff Hospital in the Borough of Brooklyn on April 6

Pat Marmo manages five funeral homes across the city.

He is finding it difficult to cope with the stress generated by influx of bodies, particularly because he himself just lost a cousin and close friend to the pandemic.

Marmo said: ‘The hospitals are pushing [us]. They want the people picked up [as quickly as possible] and the funeral homes don’t have the facilities to handle these bodies.’

Marmo estimates that his homes are currently dealing with three times more bodies that normal and that burials will last well into next month.

‘It’s almost like 9/11, going on for days and days and days,’ he said, referring to the worst terror strikes on US soil back on September 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the number of deaths across New York state had flattened out since Saturday’s high, below 600 a day.

He suggested the state may be at the peak of its pandemic, but extended stay-at-home measures until April 29, saying now was not the time to end social distancing.

NYC considers digging temporary graves for its coronavirus dead on Hart Island – which was used to dispose of Spanish Flu victims

Over the last 160 years Hart Island has been a Union Civil War prisoner-of-war camp, a psychiatric institution, tuberculosis sanatorium and a potter’s field burial site.

Since 1861 more than a million people have been buried there, with trucks still arriving at the site twice a week from morgues across New York.

One there inmates from Rikers Island are paid 50c an hour to act as pallbearers and bury the dead.

The dead are interred in trenches, with babies placed in coffins, which are stacked in groups of 1,000, measuring five coffins deep and usually in 20 rows.

Adults are placed in larger pine boxes arranged according to size and stacked in sections of 150, measuring three coffins deep in two rows.

Since the first decade of the 21st century there are fewer than 1,500 burials a year at Hart Island.

Hunt, who has documented Hart Island, added that help would be needed from the military when it came time to reunite families with the deceased.

Mayor Bill de Blasio himself spoke of the possibility of temporary burials ‘to tide us over until the end of the crisis.

‘We are not at that point,’ he told reporters, before refusing to give any more details.

On Monday morning, nine bodies were seen being loaded into trucks outside Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn.

Several undertakers interviewed said they were struggling to deal with New York state’s coronavirus death toll of more than 500 a day.

Between Friday and Saturday, a high of 630 deaths were recorded. 

 

 

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