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Death is Not the Saddest Story of COVID

Early in the first wave of the virus, Hart Island was used to bury the dead. Credit…John Minchillo/Associated Press

You would think the death of anyone due to COVID-19 would be about as sad as you think of but how about the vast number of unclaimed dead that are in storage trailers, warehouses or already buried in mass graves as being an even tougher story of COVID.

In the spring and summer of last year, big cities like New York, Newark, Los Angeles, Dallas and even the Twin Cities of Minnesota were accumulating dead bodies at a rate faster than they could handle. Funeral Homes were shut down or overwhelmed, Morgues could not keep up with the mounting dead. Cities went to manners few would have thought about to stem the tide.

New York was using a warehouse with twenty freezer tractor trailers to store some of the dead. St Paul bought a former produce warehouse for $5.4M that could store up to 1,000 bodies but fortunately was not needed, yet. El Paso ordered 10 freezer trucks and Gov Newsom ordered up 60 for California. In New York, bodies were buried in a mass unmarked grave at Hart Island, NY’s Potter’s Field.

On the one hand, I guess you can give credit to public officials that had to come up with a solution to a horrific situation. On the other hand, where were the families? How could so many deceased individuals remain unclaimed? There is no good answer. By the end of 2020, 2,225 bodies had been buried at Harts Island, the most in one year in decades. Over two thousand souls with no one to claim them.

2020 will be a year we will never forget. It unfortunately has become 2021 and there is no end in sight for the Pandemic and the sad stories that continue to surface. As a society, as just human beings, I hope we can do better. I hope we have learned lessons from our Journey with COVID about what is truly important and I lastly hope that not another single body has to be put into a freezer because not a single person cared enough to bring them home for a proper good-bye.

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