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Coronavirus crisis triggers temporary changes in funeral industry

EAST LIVERPOOL — Although in the time of crisis and mourning, traditionally people often look to each other for companionship.

However, due to recent social distancing directives as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, local funeral homes have had to adapt the way that society can bid farewell to loved ones.

According to Dike Dawson, the Dawson Funeral Home looks for guidance from such organizations as the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the Ohio Funeral Directors Association (OFDA) and organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Ohio Department of Health and Human Services for guidance regarding the COVID-19 virus and its evolution.

Recently the OFDA sent out a letter to all of the funeral homes in the state to clear up the proper protocol, which includes over-the-phone arrangements whenever possible, social distancing regulations and limits on large gatherings with more than 10 people.

The United States is on track to become the next coronavirus epicenter, according to a spokeswoman of the World Health Organization. So far, 709 Americans have died from the virus, while 53,209 have been infected. Currently more than half of the U.S. population is under orders to shelter at home.

While the CDC said that there is no known risk associated with being in the same room as a body of someone who may have died of COVID-19, many families may choose a traditional embalmment or viewing. “At the Dawson Funeral Home, we recognize our responsibility to protect the health of those who we are privileged to serve,” Dawson explains. “We will continue to guide families, as we always have since our founding in 1934, in ways that they can meaningfully and safely commemorate the life of their loved one.”

Jean Maxwell from Arner Funeral Home in West Virginia said that the directives really haven’t affected their processing of the body.

“We’ve always treated every body as it has an infectious disease. Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is nothing new in our industry,” she added.

Some funeral homes also are electing to spread out calling hours, so less people would be all together at one time.

Dawson agrees. “Our staff remains trained and vigilant about wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizing our facilities and cleaning our chapel, while ensuring we’re all following the recommended health and safety guidance from the CDC,” he said.

While most aspects of funerals have stayed the same, both noted that there have been some substantial changes.

For example, the OFDA encourages funeral homes to provide attendees with individual memorial note cards and a funeral home pen that they can keep.

Unfortunately, Bill Roberts from Roberts Funeral Home in Wellsville said, funerals are a place where most people want to be able to hug, kiss and get close to each other. Right now, this is just the way they will be able to do things. “A lot of times, our funerals are like family reunions .. . We live in an area where people come in from all over the country.”

Funeral homes are using a type of Arrangement Aide online option, which allows families to coordinates services from their home isolation sites via either a computer or smartphone, Dawson explained. While Maxwell said Arner had just implemented videostreaming a few months ago and now is able to utilize it under these conditions to hold smaller services in person with other loved ones observing from elsewhere to maintain the maximum number of in-person mourners.

One often overlooked side effect of the crisis is the increased number of phone calls from people either wanting to update or make prearrangements for their own services due to fear, Maxwell explained.

Many facilities also are debuting videostreaming for its services to keep the numbers of close friends and family members within the state and federal guidelines. With the smaller services, funeral homes are offering families the option of later memorial services, some of them like Dawson Funeral Home at no additional charge after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to pass. However, some families are opting instead for either direct cremation or immediate burial due to the current situation.

Roberts, who is a 43-year veteran of the business, said that he believes if people just would do the basic things, such as wash with soap and water and observe the restriction, “(Medical authorities are) going to be able to knock it down a lot quicker.”

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