Stop scaring New Yorkers! Earlier today, Manhattan Democrat Mark D. Levine, City Council health committee chairman, took to twitter to inform NYC that some COVID-19 casualties may be temporarily buried in a city park. Which park? He doesn’t say.
Could it be Central Park? Tottenville Park? Westerleigh Park? We just don’t know.
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. 9/
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) April 6, 2020
You read that right. Why share this with the public, especially when there is no plan to “start” doing this? Aren’t New Yorkers afraid and psychologically tormented enough, with so many ill, millions out of work, and some having lost family members or friends falling ill to COVID-19?
While it is true that NYC has contingency plans that include using local parks for temporary burials in times of extreme emergency, it is not at all true that this is necessary right now, or that the city is at a point where the system is so overburdened that this last-resort plan has been called into action.
Mayor de Blasio publicly countered this statement today at a press conference at the Brooklyn Navy Yard:
“We may well be dealing with temporary burials so we can deal with each family later…obviously the place we have used historically is Hart Island.”
Hart Island is already used by the city to bury those indignant individuals who die in city hospitals or city housing, as well as homeless individuals and those with no next-of-kin. The island is far from a park.
Part of the Pelham Islands archipelago, Hart Island is East of the Bronx in the the Long Island Sound. It’s been used exclusively as the city’s potter’s field since 1977.
The island has served many other municipal functions, including being the home to a homeless shelter, drug rehab center, tuberculosis sanatorium, and more, but its use for burials dates to the American Civil war, when twenty Union Army soldiers were buried there.
City Council health committee chairman Levine also tweeted, “It will be done in a dignified, orderly — and temporary — manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take.”
Don’t worry; the Clove Lakes ballfield isn’t going to be ripped up tomorrow. Nor will the Silver Lake Golf Course greens be excised and excavated.
These contingency plans are for situations that NYC not ever had to deal with involving massive numbers of deaths in a short period of time.
Situations that could require parks in each borough being used for temporary burials include biological attacks, earthquakes, chemical spills, extensive coastal flooding, and a pandemic with a far more virulent organism than COVID-19, such as a virus like the 1918 flu, which killed over 30,000 New Yorkers.
Freddi Goldstein, one of Mayor de Blasio’s representatives, restored sanity tot he discussion with, “We are NOT currently planning to use local parks as burial grounds…We are exploring using Hart Island for temporary burials, if the need grows.”
Parks for field hospitals? Maybe. Parks as burial grounds? Not this time, thankfully.
Update: In case you were still unsure, Mayor de Blasio had this to say to NY1 reporters later Monday evening, after this piece was published earlier in the day:
“There will never, ever be anything like quote-unquote mass graves or mass interment in New York City…ever.”
“If…we ever had to get to the point of a temporary burial, it would be individual by individual so that families could reclaim their loved ones when the crisis was over.”