By Leader Editor Kara Apel

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the world and our country, funeral professionals are rushing to find answers and solutions to ensure the safety of both their employees and the families they serve.

The National Funeral Directors Association hosted a webinar with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday morning to address some of the biggest questions professionals have been inquiring about. Click here to watch the entire video.

One major concern voiced by many is if the body of someone who contracted COVID-19 can spread the virus to others during a funeral or visitation. The CDC experts advised that right now there is no known risk of having a body in a room for a funeral or visitation. This is because the virus mainly spreads from having close contact with someone who is currently sick and from the respiratory droplets that stem from that person coughing or sneezing. 

The CDC experts said families should consider not touching the body of someone with COVID-19. There is less of a chance of the virus spreading from hugging or hand-holding, but they still advise against it. If the family’s cultural or religious traditions call for washing or shrouding the body, families are asked to work with their cultural/religious leaders on how to minimize their risk. If this custom is undergone, participants are advised to wear disposable gloves. If any sort of splashing could occur, participants are advised to wear a mask, face shield, and gown.

One of the biggest concerns for everyone across the country is that the virus can remain viable for hours – or even days – on some surfaces. That’s why it’s so important for all owners to ensure all surfaces, especially those in highly trafficked areas, are routinely cleaned. Click here for more guidance from the CDC about disinfection procedures.

At this time, the CDC experts said embalming, burial, and cremation can still occur with COVID-19 patients, but professionals are advised to check with their local and state entities for any specific regulations. When it comes to embalming, funeral professionals are advised to follow the standard precautions that they take with all infectious patients.

In regard to personal protective equipment (PPE), the CDC previously issued this guidance and asked all funeral professionals to review it. As for those who will be facilitating transfers, the CDC recommends following all standard safety procedures used are routinely used for infectious patients. Employees are advised to disinfect all body bags with an EPA-approved product.

During the webinar, many funeral professionals expressed concerns about being able to obtain PPE for their staff members and their priority in receiving these supplies. The CDC experts advised anyone concerned about supplies to alert their local healthcare coalitions and state agencies. Several attendees in the webinar noted that they have already done this and had no luck getting assistance receiving theses supplies.

Below are links to additional resources regarding PPE and respirators from the CDC:

The CDC has advised for all in-person events with 50 or more attendees to be canceled over the next eight weeks. The experts said funerals and visitations can still occur but are asking for all funeral professionals to promote social distancing among guests and to encourage handwashing and hand sanitizing at any event. Funeral homes are also encouraged to stagger events throughout the day to have smaller quantities of people inside their facilities at the same time.

Another option available for funeral homes is to livestream services instead so that any vulnerable family members or friends – or those who are in isolation or quarantine – can view the service from their home.

During the webinar, many professionals shared that they are limiting in-person interactions with families by conducting meetings over the phone or via or text email instead. Halcyon Deathcare Management Solutions, one of The Leader’s sponsors, offers an Arrangement Assistant module that enables families to input case information remotely from the convenience of their own home. If you are interested in learning more, contact Halcyon for a demonstration.

Being able to communicate with the community and families should be of the utmost concern for all funeral home and crematory operators. MKJ Marketing, the founding sponsor of The Funeral Leader, is offering a free webinar on Thursday, March 19, at 3 p.m. ET entitled “18 Ways to Adapt Your Marketing During COVID-19.” Click here to sign up.

“MKJ has been the trusted marketing partner of our funeral home clients for 35-plus years, and we know they need us now to meet them in this challenge with solutions. We are hosting this free webinar to share actionable ways for communicating on your website, social media, search marketing, video, and so much more,” said Courtney Gould Miller, Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Digital for MKJ Marketing and Managing Editor of The Funeral Leader. “We will cover 18 ways that your firm can demonstrate leadership and sensitivity during this national crisis. Even if your market is not feeling the effects of the virus right now, you need to be prepared for when it does.” OneRoom, a live streaming provider exclusive to the funeral industry, is sponsoring this webinar, and CEO David Lutterman will share best practices as well as how to get started with livestreaming right away to meet the demand.

The NFDA is keeping all industry professionals apprised of the latest updates on their website through their COVID-19 page. Consider bookmarking this page and checking it for the latest information. During these difficult and stressful times, the NFDA is also encouraging its members to utilize their Work/Life Resource Program (EAP), which they describe as “a toll-free hotline staffed by experts who can suggest resources and offer support, along with unlimited access to online resources.”

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