New Satellite Images Show New York City Digging Mass Graves For COVID-19 Victims

New excavations can be seen just right on the central building on 6 April 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies

This is Hart Island, the site where New York City will bury “unclaimed” victims of COVID-19 as the city’s daily death rate from the outbreak continues to skyrocket. 

Hart Island has a long and tortured history serving as New York’s graveyard for people with no known next of kin or those whose family haven't arranged a funeral, such as homeless people or prisoners. Over a million people have been buried on the island since the mid-19th century. During one of its darkest chapters, the island was used to bury an unknown number of people, perhaps hundreds, who died from AIDS complications at the height of fear and ignorance about the disease in the 1980s. 

Recent satellite images, taken by Earth observation company Maxar Technologies on April 6, 2020, show that authorities appear to be creating new burial trenches (seen on the right of the building in the above image) as the island prepares for the mounting number of people dying from COVID-19. 

Reuters reports a boat was seen arriving at the island on the morning of Thursday, April 9, with a refrigerated truck aboard containing an estimated two dozen bodies. The public cemetery, which typically receives 25 bodies each week, has seen a rapid rise of burials since March. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city has shortened the length of time it will hold unclaimed remains before they can be buried here, according to Reuters.

Another shot of Hart Island on April 6, 2020.  Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies

Located in the northeast Bronx borough of New York City, the public cemetery was run by the NYC Department of Correction until 2019 when the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation took command. 

In normal circumstances, the graves on Hart Island are still dug by jail inmates. However, the city was recently forced to abandon this practice as a result of social distancing measures and safety reasons. City authorities are now employing the help of contract laborers who are working on the island in hazmat suits. The dead are wrapped in body bags and placed inside pine caskets before the burial. Their name is written in large letters on each casket in case a body needs to be later exhumed. The caskets are then stacked in a trench-like dig out and covered in soil. 

New York state now has more COVID-19 cases than any single country (outside of the US) with over 161,800 confirmed cases as of 16:00 UTC April 10, 2020, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. This means New York is currently facing a higher number of COVID-19 cases than Spain and Italy, the second hardest-hit countries after the US, which have 153,000 and 143,000 confirmed infections, respectively.

Maxar Technologies also released a number of satellite images of mass graves being dug in the Iranian city of Qom on March 1. You can view these images here.

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