The coronavirus crisis is overwhelming New York’s system for burying the dead.
The 40-foot trailer has been there for weeks, parked outside the Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home in Queens. Its refrigerator hums in an alley next to a check-cashing establishment. Thirty-six bodies, one atop the other, are stacked on shelves inside.
The funeral director, Patrick Kearns, has barely slept since the day he took charge of them. As he lies awake in the middle of the night, he knows there will be more.
“It weighs on you, having so many cases in your care,” he said. “The death rate is just so high, there’s no way we can bury or cremate them fast enough.”
With more than 18,000 announced fatalities and a total death toll that is almost certainly higher, the coronavirus crisis is the worst mass casualty event to hit New York since the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago.
At the height of the outbreak in April, a New Yorker was dying almost every two minutes — more than 800 per day, or four times the city’s normal death rate. And though the daily toll has recently slowed, hundreds of bodies are still emerging each day from private homes and hospitals.
While hospitals bore the initial brunt of the crisis as sick people flooded emergency rooms, the sheer volume of human remains has pushed the system for caring for the dead to its limits, too: Hospital morgues, funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories are all overflowing and backed up…
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