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How this New York island became a mass grave

And why Hart Island is changing after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rajaa Elidrissi is a researcher and producer on the Vox video team, where she works on Vox Atlas and other videos that focus on global issues.

This story was produced in collaboration with THE CITY and Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, as part of “MISSING THEM,” THE CITY’s ongoing collaborative project to remember every New Yorker killed by Covid-19. The reporters on this story from THE CITY and Stabile are: Haidee Chu, Jacob Geanous, Téa Kvetenadze, Cassidy Jensen, Josh Merchant, Savannah Tryens-Fernandes, and Megan Zerez.

Hart Island, a small piece of land off the Bronx in New York City, resurfaced in national headlines in April 2020, when New York City became the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US. News footage of the island’s cemetery showed trenches being filled with pine coffins, sending shockwaves around the world. But these mass burials taking place during the pandemic are just the most recent in Hart Island’s long history.

Hart Island’s potter’s field cemetery dates back to 1869, and for over 150 years has served as a burial ground for over 1 million New Yorkers. Over the years, infrastructure problems and a lack of reliable public access have earned Hart Island a tainted reputation.

A 2021 analysis by Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center and THE CITY found that over 2,300 New Yorkers were buried on Hart Island in 2020. That’s more burials than any year during the AIDS epidemic, another recent health crisis.

Stabile and THE CITY also found that New York City is on pace to bury one in 10 Covid-19 victims on the island.

The analysis shows who is more likely to be buried on Hart Island: Black and Latinx residents, front-line workers, and those with little access to health care.

To understand how this ties together and what’s next for Hart Island, watch the video above. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on our YouTube channel.