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Misinformation on COVID-19 Death Protocols in New York


Quick Take

A viral Facebook post about COVID-19 falsely claims that in New York “every contaminated corpse belongs to the state” and will be incinerated without any “wakes or memorial services to pay your last respects.” The state is allowing funeral services with limited visitors; cremation is not mandated.


Full Story 

New York state has reported more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and nearly 3,000 deaths. New York City in particular has been described as an epicenter for the outbreak in the U.S.

But as New Yorkers navigate the public health crisis, a viral Facebook post is adding further alarm by spreading misinformation about what happens when someone dies from the disease. The repeatedly posted image claims that those who die will become property of the state and be incinerated without any “wakes or memorial services.”

That’s wrong, according to local and state agencies, as well as groups representing medical examiners and funeral directors.

The post uses a picture recently published by BuzzFeed News, which the outlet attributed to a New York City nurse, that is said to show COVID-19 victims in a refrigerated truck outside a city hospital.

“New York coronovirus victims,” the post reads. “They’re not letting you bury your own. There will be no wakes or memorial services to pay your last respects. Every contaminated corpse belongs to the state and will be exposed of in a incinerator.”

That’s not true.

Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, called the claim “ridiculous.” Mike Lanotte, the director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, told us in an email: “I have not seen or heard anything regarding that claim. We are still operating under the state’s guidelines.”

Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Health, noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 20 executive order — which required non-essential businesses statewide to close — “does not apply to essential businesses or entities providing essential services or functions. Pursuant to Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) guidance, essential services include ‘funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries.'”

“Thus, funeral homes may continue to operate and hold services,” Hammond said in an email. “However, they should postpone services when possible. If services must be held, funeral homes should limit the size of any services or gatherings to as few participants as possible (e.g. immediate family).”

Scott Schmidt, president of the New York State Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, also told us that, to date, there has been no directive like the one described in the Facebook posts.

There is “NOTHING stating the State owns any body and will incinerate it upon verification of being infected with Covid-19,” Schmidt said in an email. “Funeral Directors, Coroners and Medical Examiners have been briefed on proper handling procedures for such cases as have Cemetery and Crematory Operators.”

In New York City, there have been numerous news reports about how the volume of deaths has overworked the system and transformed farewells for families. The demand has required the procurement of mobile morgues and created backlogs for cemeteries and crematoriums. Some cemeteries are not allowing visitors.

But the state hasn’t forbidden funeral homes or cemeteries from allowing services altogether. While the state encourages services be postponed or limited to immediate family, as we said, its Division of Cemeteries notes that “funeral homes and cemeteries may continue to operate and hold services.”

Lanotte, of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, said he was aware of “some cemeteries that are no longer, for safety reasons, allowing visitors.” While a Daily Beast report noted one funeral home’s decision to end visitation, that does not appear to be a widespread practice across the city or state. Lanotte said he has not “heard directly yet of any funeral homes ending visitations. I do know they have adjusted to the new guidelines and are offering private viewings/ceremonies for immediate family only.”

In some cases, funeral homes are following those guidelines but allowing those beyond immediate family to partake remotely by using Facebook Live or Zoom.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” New York Times. Accessed 3 Apr 2020.

Cruz, David. “Funeral Homes Are Facing ‘Unprecedented’ Demand Amid Coronavirus Pandemic.” Gothamist. 3 Apr 2020.

Division of Cemeteries. New York State Department of State. Accessed 3 Apr 2020.

Elder, Miriam. “A Nurse Shared A Harrowing Photo Of COVID-19 Victims To Show How Horrifying The Outbreak Is.” BuzzFeed News. 29 Mar 2020.

Feuer, Alan and Andrea Salcedo. “New York City Deploys 45 Mobile Morgues as Virus Strains Funeral Homes.” New York Times. 2 Apr 2020.

Governor Cuomo Signs the ‘New York State on PAUSE’ Executive Order.” New York State. 20 Mar 2020.

Guidance for Determining Whether a Business Enterprise is Subject to a Workforce Reduction Under Recent Executive Orders.” New York State Empire State Development Corporation. 27 Mar 2020.

Hammond, Jeffrey. Spokesman, New York State Department of Health. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Lanotte, Mike. Director, New York State Funeral Directors Association. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Schmidt, Scott M. President, New York State Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners. Email to FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Seiner, Jake and John Minchillo. “‘Surreal’: NY funeral homes struggle as virus deaths surge.” Associated Press. 3 Apr 2020. 

Worthy-Davis, Aja. Spokeswoman, New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Email to FactCheck.org. 2 Apr 2020.