The place that is home to an estimated million people who were often unidentified at the time of their deaths during the AIDS crisis, will soon be the burial ground for unclaimed COVID-19 victims.
On April 9, the city announced unclaimed COVID-19 bodies will be interred at Hart Island. A spokesman for the mayor stressed this is not the same thing as the temporary burials that have recently been in the news. He said they do not anticipate needing to conduct those.
The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner provides temporary storage of a decedent for 14 days.
“For decades, Hart Island has been used to lay to rest decedents who have not been claimed by family members,” the spokesman 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 who fit this description will be buried on the Island in the coming days.”
In December 2019 Mayor de Blasio signed legislation to transfer the potter’s field out of the jurisdiction of the NYC Department of Corrections and into the hands of the NYC Parks Department.
During the AIDS crisis, Hart Island served as mass burial site for AIDs victims, whose bodies went unclaimed.
Often those who die in city detention are buried there by fellow detainees, hence DOC’s authority over the small island.
The City Council recently passed legislation that Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez sponsored for the transfer of Hart Island to Parks Department jurisdiction.
The 131-acre island has a storied past in the city’s history.
During the Civil War, it served as an internment camp, then as a psychiatric institution, and a Nike Missile launch site, according to the mayor’s office.