The spread of COVID-19 in New York City caused the “largest mass fatality incident” in the city’s modern history, according to the city’s medical examiner.
In a report released by the city, the Office of New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner released statistics showing that deaths in the five boroughs more than doubled in 2020 compared to the amount that occurred in 2019.
The medical examiner’s figures were included in an annual report released by the mayor’s office on Friday.
The numbers themselves are staggering. The city recorded 65,712 deaths in the 2020 fiscal year, compared to 30,964 in 2019 and 30,213 in 2018.
That’s more than 35,000 deaths in excess of the average set by the previous two years.
New York City’s official COVID-19 death toll stands at 23,767, according to the city Department of Health, with 19,142 of those deaths being confirmed COVID-19 and 4,625 being “probable” COVID-19 — cases where there was no positive laboratory test for the virus, but where doctors determined that the patient likely suffered from the disease caused by the deadly virus.
That suggests an additional 16,000 deaths in excess of the norm that have never been attributed to any cause directly related to COVID-19. However, the report notes that the city’s hospital system was overwhelmed during the worst days of the pandemic, saying that it “created patient loads well beyond our health care system’s baseline capacities, especially in intensive care units.”
The effects of this onslaught of death rippled throughout the city’s ability to respond in unexpected ways, according to the report.
The average time it took to complete an autopsy increased by nearly two weeks, for example, because the vast majority of medical examiner staff “were temporarily reassigned to assist in the mortuary to keep up with the surge in deaths.”
But the amount of time that it took the medical examiner to clear a body for release plummeted. Compared to an average time of 11.56 hours in 2019 from receiving a body to investigating the circumstances of death and clearing the remains for release, it took the coroner an average of 37 minutes in 2020.
That happened because so many people died of the same cause.
Other indicators also reflect the scale of the disaster. The number of requests for cremation increased by more than 10,000 from 2019. Between March and June, the city said, New York City received 16,115 cremation requests — a total 1,000 shy of all requests the city received in 2019.
In spite of emergency regulations allowing city crematoria to work into the night, the five boroughs could not process the dead from the virus. The city was eventually forced to send bodies out-of-state to cope with a gruesome backlog.