Coronavirus: Rikers Island inmate Harvey Weinstein could be digging mass graves if pandemic escalates

As New York City plans to tackle the disease, it would likely need an arrangement for the quick burial of corpses

                            Coronavirus: Rikers Island inmate Harvey Weinstein could be digging mass graves if pandemic escalates
(Getty Images)

New York City is already preparing for the worst as coronavirus cases are on the rise, with contingency plans that could see Rikers Island inmates, including disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, dig mass graves to accommodate up to 51,000 bodies.

As the city plans to tackle the severe epidemic with a mortality rate of 2.1 percent, it would likely need an arrangement for the quick burial of corpses. Charles S Hirsch, the city's Chief Medical Examiner during the administration of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, drew up a contingency plan for such emergencies back in October 2008. 

Titled ‘Pandemic Influenza Surge Plan For Managing In- and Out-of-Hospital Deaths,’ the report outlines response strategies in case of widespread emergencies on the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 1957 Asian Flu.

A traveler wears a medical mask at Grand Central station on March 5, 2020, in New York City
(Getty Images)

About 70% of the deaths during a pandemic would occur in hospitals or assisted living centers, the report estimates, adding that the city would deploy death professionals like morticians, forensic photographers, and medical students to collect the bodies.

According to New York magazine, it is estimated they would be tasked with removing anywhere between 50 to 5,000 cadavers a day.

If the removal of bodies becomes overwhelming, the city would be forced to deploy mobile refrigerated morgues at prime locations around the city, each with a capacity of holding up to 44 bodies. The disposal of the bodies would then need to be accelerated, using quicker methods like cremation.

And as a last resort, the city would ship the excess bodies off to Hart Island, located in the western Long Island Sound off the Bronx shoreline.

Once there, prisoners from nearby Rikers Island — where Harvey Weinstein is holed up — would be tasked with digging mass graves and burying the corpses. 

The Miramax founder made headlines recently after taking a bad fall and allegedly suffering a concussion at the maximum-security facility. But considering the rapid spread of novel coronavirus, Weinstein could be digging mass graves soon despite his deteriorating health.

That said, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo learned on Monday how the use of prison labor is a controversial topic.

The governor introduced a new hand sanitizer for New Yorkers during a news conference in Albany, saying it would be sold at a cheap price if manufacturers unethically engaged in price gouging during the pandemic. "We are introducing New York State Clean hand sanitizer made conveniently by the State of New York," Cuomo said. "This is a superior product to products now in the market." According to the governor, it costs the state less money to manufacture the product themselves than to buy it from other vendors in the market.

But the decision soon received pushback after it came to light the sanitizers were made by Corcraft, a state-owned business that uses prison labor. 

Furthermore, advocates of criminal justice reform objected to the use of prison labor during a health crisis.

Speaking to The New York Times, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a first-term Democrat from Brooklyn, said, "I’m concerned that we are asking the incarcerated to save the public from a health crisis, but won’t give them the dignity of a fair wage."

Inmates are usually paid an hourly wage of 62 cents in New York State. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, they get as little as 10 cents an hour in some cases.

Having said that, more than 170 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed in New York as of Tuesday.

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