How COVID-19 Is Affecting The Funeral Industry
Currently, over 190,000 people have died from the coronavirus. This sudden increase in deaths has meant that the funeral industry has had to change its practices, including how bodies are transported. Local authorities have been expanding mortuaries to cope until the curve is flattened.
Although changes vary depending on location, all funeral practices are changing how they are conducting funerals. This change will affect loved ones the most.
What does COVID-19 mean for the funeral industry?
Everywhere the coronavirus is present, the funeral industry has been updating its practices to follow government guidelines to keep the public safe.
Funeral homes have had to change the way they manage the arrival and departure of the loved ones of the deceased.
While some local authorities are banning funeral services, others are limiting attendance to family only. These limitations can be upsetting, but they are essential for social distancing measures. Should family members be unavailable or unable to attend, close friends may be able to attend the funeral.
Members of the public are advised to avoid contact with other households and stay at least 1m (3 ft) away from others by the World Health Organization (WHO). Restricting the number of those attending the funeral is to follow these recommendations
Funerals are meant to give closure. Usual behavior such as hugging and shaking hands with those from a different household is not recommended due to social distancing measures. Instead, loved ones are advised to talk over the phone or through video chat.
Those who can't attend the funeral of a loved one may feel guilty or frustrated. There are ways to ease the stress for loved ones while maintaining social distancing measures.
What Does This Mean for Families?
The Church of England has banned church funeral services, and public gatherings have been banned in Italy. Funeral homes may offer additional support and guidance for those affected by the coronavirus.
The funeral industry has alternatives to traditional funerals available for those affected during this time. Members of the family may be able to attend the burial from a distance, although a church gathering won't be possible for the time being a gathering could be organized when lockdown has ceased.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that funerals could be live-streamed for family and friends unable to attend funerals during the lockdown.
Many funeral homes are offering a live streaming service.
If your local funeral home isn't offering a live streaming service, a family member attending from a distance may stream or video the service for loved ones.
Check your local authority's website for more information on the services currently available near you.
Doctors and funeral homes are moving to digitally register deaths to maintain social distancing as much as possible.
While how death is registered depends on location, generally a death was registered by a family member going to the registrar's office. Governments have introduced measures to register a death digitally. This means the registration process can maintain the quality of service while staying safe.
Transport and Storage
To avoid overwhelming the funeral system, local authorities have been working with mortuaries and funeral homes to find additional transport and storage when required.
In the US, local authorities may now seek assistance from organizations to transport and store bodies. The funeral industry has adapted to these changes, and organizations are finding ways to transport bodies and to treat the dead with respect.
Cities hit worst by the coronavirus moved coffins out of the city as local morgues could not cope with the rising death toll.
In Bergamo, Italy, army trucks transported the dead out of the city so they could be cremated elsewhere. Bergamo is one of the cities affected most by COVID-19 with at least 4 thousand infections. The funeral industry was overwhelmed in the city, but cremating the bodies outside of the city was the best solution to ease the local industry's workload and to give families closure.
Other cities have also taken measures to support the funeral industry. In New York, local authorities have made makeshift hospitals and morgues across the city. New York is considered the epicenter of the coronavirus in the US, with over 17 thousand deaths.
Bergamo and New York are some of the cities most affected by COVID-19. The funeral industry has had to adapt to these circumstances. However, not every city is affected in the same way.
Rumors that the virus can be spread from bodies of the dead began earlier this month after a report from Thailand was misinterpreted.
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from the bodies of the deceased.
However, the funeral industry and morgues have been working to maintain standards to protect workers and prevent any spread of the virus. The health authority in Ireland has advised workers to wear face masks and mask the deceased. This is general, standard practice for protection from infectious diseases.
The coronavirus has changed the way the funeral industry operates. Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have caused concern for some workers in the funeral industry. One coroner advised that masks could be made from towels, bin liners,and incontinence pads.
As well as PPE shortages, hospitals, and funeral homes have been struggling with a shortage of body bags. In the US, funeral directors have been wrapping bodies in sheets that may not be as effective as bags built for this purpose.
Those who are vulnerable to infections are advised to shield themselves from COVID-19 by self-isolating. Social gatherings have been a challenge for those wanting to mourn with family and friends. Now, funeral homes are beginning to host virtual funerals for those who cannot physically attend. Funeral guidelines do vary depending on your location, so check with your local health authority for more information.
If someone vulnerable to contracting the virus still wishes to attend a funeral in the US, the funeral home may introduce additional measures to protect the individual. Contact the funeral director to discuss the options available to you.