NYC buys 45 refrigerated trucks in case morgues overwhelmed

David Kocieniewski and David Voreacos
Bloomberg News

New York City has bought 45 refrigerated truck trailers each capable of holding as many as 44 bodies — in case city morgues and hospitals become overwhelmed with number of dead from the coronavirus. With the addition of refrigerated tents, the city will have the capacity to hold as many as 3,600 bodies, a city official said.

The city is the expanding epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., with almost 200 deaths and about 18,000 cases. Officials stress that the measures are so far only precautionary, but the trailers and tents reflect both the feared scale of the epidemic in New York City and the precise lengths to which officials have been planning for the worst — down to the temperature of the trucks.

Medical Examiner personnel and construction workers are seen at the site of a makeshift morgue being built in New York, Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Workers have already erected a large tent and installed trailers by the central morgue in lower Manhattan, according to Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Now, the city’s five morgues have a capacity of 800 to 900.

“We’re putting them out near major hospitals as a precautionary measure to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” Worthy-Davis said. “We very much hope we don’t need them.”

Michael Lanotte, executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, said: “These units are essential to ensure that decedents are treated humanely while they await transfer to a funeral home.”“It’s a whole new temporary world that we are all trying to navigate,” he said.

The city is sending a “Mass Fatality Management” plan to medical facilities, laying out technical specifications for the trailers, known as Body Collection Points. The trailers must be cooled to a temperature of 37 degrees, documents for their purchase show.

The plan offers hospitals instructions on how to store and safeguard the belongings of the deceased as well as a “pick-up checklist” of requirements that must be met by funeral directors and next of kin before bodies will be released for burial.

Funeral services have been limited in the state, with only immediate family members allowed to gather for private ceremonies, Lanotte said. Some cemeteries say only families can attend burials, while others limit it 10 people and some say people must stay in their cars, he said.