- New York City is the epicenter of the US’s coronavirus outbreak.
- To see how the rising death toll is affecting “deathcare” — services that families use to put the bodies of loved ones to rest — I shadowed Patrick Marmo, a funeral director from Brooklyn.
- What I saw and heard suggest that the city’s resources are strained at best. “No one in the New York City area possibly has enough equipment to care for human remains of this magnitude,” Marmo said.
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On a typical day, Patrick Marmo is responsible for about 40 bodies. By the end of Monday, he had 143.
Marmo, a Brooklyn native and a state-licensed embalmer of 30 years, is the founder and CEO of International Funeral Service of New York, a company based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It’s one of the largest and best-equipped local providers of “deathcare,” the term for services including removing and embalming corpses, arranging funerals, and coordinating burials and cremations.
But Marmo says New York City’s coronavirus epidemic is straining his industry to a breaking point.
“I don’t know how many more bodies I can take,” Marmo told Business Insider. “No one in the New York City area possibly has enough equipment to care for human remains of this magnitude.”
The city has quickly become the epicenter of the US’s outbreak. A person dies from the virus roughly every six minutes in New York City, and that rate is likely to increase as cases peak over the next few weeks. A simulation by one leading area hospital suggested that admissions would begin to skyrocket even further on Thursday, according to a senior employee. The US government has said 100,000 to 200,000 Americans may die from COVID-19.
Handling the dead in the pandemic has become its own frontline battle. The growing body count in New York City means that available hospital morgue space is dwindling. The city may run out of overflow storage for bodies later this week, Politico reported.
In the wake of COVID-19’s carnage, Marmo, his colleagues, and the grieving families they serve face increasingly precarious difficulties of their own, like whether or not they can even hold funerals.
To understand how the industry is coping with the grim situation, I spent the day with Marmo and his staff. What I saw and heard suggests the city is entering a growing, chaotic, and risky battle over its dead.
Editor’s note: The following content may not be suitable for everyone, though we have blurred sensitive parts of some images. We’re also withholding or redacting some names and other details of workers and the families of the deceased to protect their privacy.