New York City workers buried the bodies of at least 40 people Thursday on Hart's Island, according to reports.
What are the details?
City Hall spokesperson Freddi Goldstein spoke with the New York Post on Thursday and confirmed the burials.
"For decades, Hart Island has been used to lay to rest decedents who have not been claimed by family members," Goldstein said. "We will continue using the island in that fashion during this crisis and it is likely that people who have passed away from COVID-19 who fit this description will be buried on the island in the coming days."
Goldstein's statement follows the release of images featuring workers clad in hazmat-style suits burying dozens of caskets in a mass grave on the island.
Officials did not officially confirm whether they believed COVID-19 patients were among those buried on Thursday.
"Asked earlier in the week if suspected coronavirus patients were among the dead, officials said they were uncertain because it is unknown if some deceased were not tested," the Post reported. "The city's count of COVID-19 deaths is believed to be inaccurate because 'probable cases' of those found dead in their homes are not tested."
The outlet reported that Riker's Island inmates have typically buried the city's anonymous and unclaimed dead, but private contractors have reportedly taken over the duty. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, inmates were responsible for burying about 25 decedents per week.
"The bodies are typically wrapped in body bags and placed in pine boxes," the outlet reported, "with their names scrawled on the top."
Jason Kesten, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Corrections, told Reuters that inmates are no longer permitted to bury the dead for the time being.
"They added two new trenches in case we need them," he said. "For social distancing and safety reasons, city-sentenced people in custody are not assisting in burials for the duration of the pandemic."
Earlier this week, New York City Councilman Mark Levine, chair of New York City Council's health committee, announced that the city will temporarily bury COVID-19 patients in a local park if necessary.
"Soon we'll start 'temporary interment,'" he wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread. "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," he concluded, "is to avoid scenes like those in Italy, where the military was forced to collect bodies from churches and even off the streets."