GREENVILLE — The Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has altered life for professions across the United States, particularly those in the medical field. Doctors, nurses and first providers have been working hard for months now, doing their part to not only heal those afflicted, but prevent its spread to the healthy.
But what happens after a loved one passes away from this virus? And what steps are funeral homes taking, not only in the care of the deceased, but for the grieving families of those who have died?
The Daily Advocate reached out to local funeral homes to learn how they have adjusted to these difficult times. Eric and Kristin Fee, David Gillum, and Thomas Shaw of Tribute Funeral Homes, and Gregory Zechar of Zechar-Bailey Funeral Home, responded to our inquiries.
Q. “In what ways has the Coronavirus changed how you perform preparation of the bodies of the deceased?”
Tribute: “Our systems have not necessarily charged due to the coronavirus. We always use the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our staff and use the utmost care for everyone that we serve. Much like other medical professions, we are also experiencing a shortage in PPE, but we are making do with what we have in order to protect both our employees and our community.”
Zechar-Bailey: “The preparation of bodies hasn’t changed much at all other than the personal protective gear we use is more in depth. On these cases we are required to be in full PPE which is a disposable gown, scrubs, shoe covers, head cover, N95 respirator mask, goggles or face shield. The biggest issue we have run into is obtaining the protective gear that we need to use. On the removals of these cases we are required to wear scrubs, a disposable gown or apron, shoe covers, head covers, N95 respirator mask, and goggles or face shield. The safest thing we have to do is to keep the mouth and nose of the decedent covered at all times during the process.”
Q: “Obviously, all large gatherings have been discouraged, including memorial services. What methods have you taken to mitigate this for families?”
Tribute: “While Gov. Mike Dewine did exempt weddings and funerals, we are doing our part to help families reduce the size of gatherings. We encourage private services for immediate family. We have held public graveside services, but we encourage physical distancing and provide a sound system to allow guests to hear the service from a distance or their car. This is an especially tough time to lose a loved one! Families that we serve during this time are encouraged to have public celebrations later this summer. We are scheduling, hosting and assisting with these postponed celebrations at no additional cost, because frankly they have given up enough.”
Zechar-Bailey: “With the regulations on gatherings in place, we have implemented a 10-person policy for families in the building for a visitation or service, and giving the family the option to rotate people in and out; we have placed hand sanitizer throughout our building and have sanitizer wipes available to wipe off surfaces during the times when families are in our building; and we have a cleaning schedule that we use throughout the day to keep our building as safe as it can be for our families. A majority of the services the families have been doing are private services or graveside services in which we offer to livestream with Facebook Live or Zoom and we have purchased a tripod for our cellphones to stream and also a AP system to use at the cemetery to help to accommodate graveside services using social distancing.”
Q: “Do you find that most people are postponing memorial services for their loved ones until a later date? If so, has there been a target date for these folks?”
Tribute: “Every family is different and we craft the service and celebration they choose. Many families who select a traditional burial typically have some type of celebration or small gathering, and we go to great lengths to make their tribute worthy of their loved one. Families selecting cremation have several options… some are planning for a service in the future and some are choosing to stay in the moment. A target date has not been set.”
Zechar-Bailey: “A majority of our families have opted for private services with a Celebration of Life at a later date. There is no target date set yet so we are maintaining a list and we will continue to follow up with the families as we get closer to being able to do these.”
Q: “Do you feel the coronavirus has impacted funeral homes financially, as it has other related industries, such as florists, and so forth?”
Tribute: “Tribute Funeral Homes is part of our communities’ locally owned small business network. These business owners put their capital on the line, employ families, support non profits, wave at you on the sidewalk, and their taxes go back into this community. They are 100 percent sold out… they choose to be here, and there are no winners during this pandemic. We are heartbroken for all of the small business owners that only want to provide a service and make their community better.”
Zechar-Bailey: “Yes, the Coronavirus has had a major financial impact on the industry. There has been a rise in cremations since this has started. This impacts all aspects of our business including the florists and vault companies due to loss of revenue at this time with delayed services and possibly fewer burials.”
Q: “Do you think any of the changes will be permanent going forward, as it pertains to health precautions for funeral home staff?”
Tribute: “We try not to spend our time wrapped up in what the future may or may not hold. The Bible reminds us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself! Instead we choose to focus on what we can control… and that is making the best tribute and celebration of life we possibly can for the amazing families we serve! It is what we do best.”
Zechar-Bailey: “I don’t foresee and permanent changes for our industry. All of the precautions we have put into place for this are the same as we have had in the past with other serious health issues that the industry has faced.”
Asked to include any additional thoughts or observations, the staff of Tribute Funeral Homes said, “We are a community of faith and fellowship. We continue to be inspired by the generosity of our community and the innovation of our fellow small business owners. Our hope is that we emerge stronger and more connected.”
Gregory Zechar of Zechar-Bailey Funeral Homes added, “The Coronavirus has really put our industry on its toes trying to find ways to accommodate our families while trying to keep them, the public and ourselves safe. The use of digital media such as Facebook Live and Zoom have been very good methods for helping our families. This has been a real eye opener for our industry and now has us all really trying to think outside the box to help and serve our families better moving forward.”