Across Brooklyn’s 39th Street from the building that house the HSS Training Center and the Nets business offices is a reminder of the devastation that COVID-19 has wreaked on New York City. As the team, players and staff, re-gather in Brooklyn this week, the pandemic’s worst effects will be visible close by.
The Daily Mail reported back in May and the Wall Street Journal again last week that the vast parking lot next to the building has been home to mobile morgues ... a white fleet of refrigerated trucks filled with the unclaimed bodies of those New Yorkers lost to the deadly virus. COVID has killed more than 34,000 in the city, 5,200 in Brooklyn alone. Brooklyn, along with Queens, remain the hardest hit counties in the hardest hit state.
The Journal explained why more than 600 bodies — representing one out of 50 New Yorkers who’ve died from COVID — remain unclaimed and stored in Brooklyn, six months after the pandemic exhausted the city’s mortuary space.
Many of the bodies are of people whose families can’t be located or can’t afford a proper burial, according to the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner. About 650 bodies are being stored in the trucks at a disaster morgue that was set up in April on the 39th Street Pier in Sunset Park...
Officials at the chief medical examiner’s office said they are having trouble tracking down relatives of about 230 deceased people. In cases like these, a spokeswoman said, it isn’t uncommon for the deceased to have been estranged from families and for next-of-kin details to be dated or incorrect. When next of kin have been contacted, officials said most bodies haven’t been collected because of financial reasons.
The number of stored bodies is down from the 698 two months ago, the Journal reported, but more than were housed there in April. The city provided no precise timeframe for when the parking lot will be free of the trucks, telling the Journal.
The spokeswoman for the chief medical examiner’s office said the long-term storage facility would remain in operation at least until the pandemic is declared over.
Some bodies will ultimately be buried in a potter’s field on Hart Island in the Long Island Sound off the Bronx.
Others may be able to ignore the pandemic’s toll but not those who come to work on 39th Street. As Sean Marks said back in May in an interview with a radio station in his native New Zealand, “We’re right in the heart of it. The sights and sounds of it cannot be ignored.”
Jarrett Allen was one of a handful of players who stayed in the borough during the worst of it all back in the spring. In May, the transplanted Texan summed up how the events of 2020 affected him beyond, as he said, the empty streets, the constant sirens of emergency vehicles.
“It’s always been something for me to represent Brooklyn,” Allen said. “I stayed in during the pandemic. I went out to protest. I’ve been around Brooklyn giving back to the community. I’ve been with the team giving my heart and soul for them.
“I’m here for them.”