Makeshift hospitals and morgues, some in unexpected places, make the consequences of coronavirus unescapable.

April 9, 2020

ImageThe Office of the Medical Examiner’s temporary morgue in Manhattan.

The sirens seem endless. Even for New York. They cut through the silent streets, reminding us that the crisis we are facing is no longer an abstract idea. No longer contained to TV screens or even the hospital a few blocks away.

Reminders of our new reality now appear all over, and in unexpected places.

In Central Park, residents out for a walk stopped and stood quietly, staring at a field hospital being erected. It felt as if an image from a century ago was materializing in the East Meadow.

Then a hospital ship docked in Manhattan that hadn’t been seen here since after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. A crowd gathered along a fence to behold the massive craft as it pulled into Pier 90. Police cruisers stopped on the West Side Highway, blaring a prerecorded message from the speakers, telling onlookers to stay six feet apart.

Soon, the reminders were inescapable.

Across the five boroughs, surgical masks and gloves lay discarded on the sidewalks and pavement.

White tents have popped up along the city’s streets, covering coronavirus testing centers, hospital entrances and those who perform the solemn duties of transporting the dead.

One such tent sits on Baxter Avenue, behind Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, where cases are among the city’s highest. As the line of people waiting to be tested snakes slowly along a ramp, ambulance crews nearby have their own rhythm. One rushes a patient into the hospital as another takes on the meticulous duty of wiping everything down before the next call.

Perhaps the starkest reminders are the refrigerated trucks that now appear outside the city’s hospitals. In St. Vincent’s Triangle last week, across from where the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital treated victims of Sept. 11 and where the New York City AIDS Memorial casts triangular shadows in the afternoon light, a man and woman walked by. They stopped when they noticed the white trailer parked along West 12th Street, outside Lennox Health hospital.

They both looked at the truck and the man said, “It’s a morgue.”

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