De Blasio admits NYC likely undercounting coronavirus deaths, refusing to say how city will handle surge in bodies of victims
A temporary morgue is set up outside the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Manhattan, New York on Monday, April 6, 2020.
Mayor de Blasio once again refused to detail the city’s capacity to handle the bodies of coronavirus victims – and admitted officials are also likely undercounting the number of people who have died during the pandemic.
The mayor said Tuesday he assumes most people in New York City who have died at home in recent weeks without being tested or treated for COVID-19 likely had the deadly disease.
“I am assuming the vast majority of those deaths are coronavirus related,” de Blasio said at a briefing. “It’s understandable in a crisis that being able to make the confirmation is harder to do with all the resources stretched so thin…The first use of all of everything we’ve got – our professionals, our health care workers, our resources – the first thing we are focused on is saving the next life.”
The city reported 3,202 people have died of COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, a 29.37% jump from the 2,475 deaths logged just 24 hours before, according to the city Health Department.
The medical examiner’s office has enough space in borough-based morgues for about 800 to 900 bodies during normal times.
Officials said this capacity has expanded significantly since the pandemic began – with 80 mobile refrigerated trucks and a temporary morgue tent. Hospitals also have morgues.
But the medical examiner’s office won’t say how much space the city currently has for the bodies of coronavirus victims. De Blasio has also repeatedly refused to discuss how the city will handle a surge in bodies as the death toll rapidly climbs in the next weeks.
“I really am not going to keep getting into detail,” he said Tuesday. “We have the capacity we need, we’re hoping and praying we never have to come near using it.”
The mayor said the city shouldn’t “dwell” on the issue because “every time we talk about it, we’re talking about families that are going through a lot of pain right now.”
“To them, it’s their loved one, it’s not some bigger discussion, it’s about a person in their life they’ve lost and we want to be really dignified and really respectful in our support for those families,” he said, noting the focus should be “saving the next life.”
De Blasio said the city will eventually be able to understand the extent of coronavirus’ toll in New York City, including those who have perished at home.
“We do want to know the truth about what happened in every death at home,” he said. “But I think we can say at this point, it’s right to assume the vast majority are coronavirus related and that makes it even more sober, the sense of how many people we are losing, how many families are suffering, how real this crisis is.”