Virus forces funeral homes to implement restrictions

Published 11:51 am Thursday, April 2, 2020

One group that is often overlooked for their part in public health is the funeral industry; during a pandemic like COVID-19, funeral homes must continue to operate.
Taking precautions to keep themselves safe while still serving the families in mourning, local funeral homes are doing their part to work while following federal and state guidelines.
For most funeral homes, day-to-day operations are the same. What has changed is how funeral services are conducted.
Personnel at Memorial Funeral Chapel in Elizabethton say having funeral services during the coronavirus pandemic has been different.
Traditional funerals have services in a chapel or church, followed by a graveside memorial, and depending on the size of the family, scores may be in attendance.
Local funeral directors say telling people they can’t come to their loved one’s service is the hardest part.
But since COVID-19, CDC mandates services now be limited to 10 people, a far cry from the norm.
“With most churches canceling services and activities that means no funerals as well. We are following federal and state guidelines, which means only 10 and no more can congregate at the funeral home. If we have a large family, we schedule different times for viewing so that not everyone is here at the same time. Graveside services are for the immediate family only,” said Junior Stalcup, owner of Memorial Funeral Chapel.
Stalcup also noted that if the burial is at the VA Cemetery at Mountain Home, only one person can go and they must stay in the car. “The next day they can visit the grave and take a flower,” Stalcup said.
A spokesman for the VA Cemetery, Johnson City, said: “We have limited services to direct interments to keep our families and staff members safe. The family is still able to view, but there is no committal service or military honors. We will provide those services for families who wish to proceed after this emergency.”
Stalcup noted that many families are planning future memorial services for their deceased.
Jerissa Ward, a funeral director at Tetrick Funeral Home in Elizabethton, said the funeral home now does all-day viewing to accommodate families and friends, so as to abide by the 10-person limitation. “Then, they have to abide by the 6-foot social distancing,” she said.
“We are doing no funerals, just graveside services,” Ward added.
She noted that this is a difficult time, especially for grieving families. “This is a time when they need their family and friends, but they can’t come together with friends at the funeral home or their church for that comfort. Any comfort they receive must come from friends via the telephone or some other social means,” Ward shared.
“We’re doing everything we can to treat families with dignity and respect and yet abide by the rules. We want to keep those families safe as well as our staff,” Stalcup shared. “It’s not an easy time for anyone.”
He said that for the most part the public has been reacting well to the precautions the government is asking them to take and that many are choosing to delay a larger ceremony until restrictions on large crowds are lifted.
“Of course any changes when it comes to this type of industry — it does impact the family greatly,” Stalcup said.
But, he says, they know why the changes are being made. “Most of our family members understand that this is not anything that the funeral home is involved with, but we have to follow what’s been passed on to us,” he said.
Ward agreed that families are understanding. “This is a time unlike any that we have seen, and it’s difficult for everyone. We just have to reach out to each other in whatever ways we can, and try to help ease their burdens and grief,” she said.
Meanwhile, funeral homes insist they will keep doing their jobs, even if the crisis escalates. Both, Stalcup and Ward noted that death happens on a daily basis, and funeral homes have a job to do, and that is taking care of their families and loved ones, who have passed, regardless of what is going on in the world.

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