New York City Builds Makeshift Morgue to Handle Expected Rise in Coronavirus Deaths

New York City has erected a makeshift morgue outside a hospital to handle the expected rise in deaths due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) confirmed to Newsweek that the refrigerated tents outside Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan were built as part of contingency plans in case the city's permanent morgues reach capacity.

Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said in a statement, "We're in a public health crisis, and the city has declared a state of emergency. As part of that declaration, agencies like OCME have enacted emergency contingency plans to help prepare for every possible outcome."

Temporary morgue
Workers and members of the National Guard build a makeshift morgue outside of Bellevue Hospital on March 25, 2020 in New York City. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

New York City's morgues can accommodate between 800 and 900 bodies at a time, but they aren't close to reaching capacity yet, Worthy-Davis told the New York Daily News reported. But officials are preparing for the death toll in the city, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., to continue rising.

The tents and trucks outside Bellevue Hospital can accommodate up to 3,600 bodies, Worthy-Davis added.

New York is by far the worst-hit state with more than 33,000 confirmed cases and 325 deaths as of Thursday, according to a tally by The New York Times. The state — which has been testing aggressively — accounts for almost half of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that the number of people hospitalized in the state had climbed to 3,800, including almost 900 in intensive care. The peak of the outbreak is still weeks away, he added, but he said there were signs that the measures put in place to slow the virus's spread were working.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the U.S. has the potential to become the new epicenter of the pandemic.

"We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential. We cannot say that is the case yet but it does have that potential," WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters, according to Reuters. The U.S. has "a very large outbreak and an outbreak that is increasing in intensity," Harris added.

The U.S. has the third most coronavirus cases after China and Italy. According to Johns Hopkins University, there are almost 70,000 confirmed cases and the number of dead had surpassed 1,000 on Thursday. More than 600 people have recovered.

Globally, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 485,000 people and killed more than 22,000. More than 117,000 people have recovered.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the stark rise in COVID-19 cases in New York state.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York, Washington,California
This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York state, Washington state and California.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.