Funeral homes reopening under new guidelines

By Drew Bergman

Contributor

Yesterday, funeral homes across the Commonwealth effectively reopened their doors as part of Phase 2 of Kentucky’s Healthy at Work initiative following two months of dire limitations.

On March 17, Governor Andy Beshear signed an order stating that “all public-facing businesses that encourage public congregation or, that by the nature of their service to the public, cannot comply with the CDC guidelines concerning social distancing, shall cease their operations.”

While the order itself did not specifically name funeral homes, their status was clarified in comments from the governor, whose grandfather ran a funeral home, that same day.

“Funerals are… times when a lot of people come together, and we really need your help,” Governor Beshear said. “They need to be just the closest of family even though a funeral is something that everybody wants to go to who knew the person, we’re just at a place right now where that can’t be the case.”

Rob Riley and Sidney Fogle, the president and executive director of the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky, sent a directive out to their member firms on March 18 further clarifying that: “All funerals in Kentucky are limited to the ‘closest of family,’ with ‘private burials.’”
With Kentucky’s coronavirus case curve flattening, ours is one of only two states (North Dakota) that is hitting the CDC’s benchmarks for a safe reopening. 

Though we are now in a place where people can come back together to celebrate the lives and mourn the passings of our loved ones, there are still restrictions in place to help continue mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As with other businesses and services, funeral homes and memorial services have industry-specific requirements tailored to their industry. The goal of these requirements is to provide the safest environment for families and staffs while enabling those staffs to provide the fullest service possible.
On May 10 the state published its industry-specific Healthy at Work requirements for funeral homes. As with churches, funeral homes are being asked to limit attendance to no more than one-third of the building’s normal occupancy capacity (not counting essential staff) and keep attendees that don’t live together spaced apart six feet. Now-standard coverings and cleaning supplies are also required to be available.
What follows are the detailed industry-specific requirements for funeral homes:

Funeral and memorial service providers will be required to meet the same Healthy

at Work Minimum Requirements as businesses. In addition, funeral and memorial

service providers must meet the requirements below in order to reopen and

remain open:

Social Distancing Requirements

Funeral and memorial service providers conducting in-person funerals, memorials or burials should limit attendance to no more than 33% of the building occupancy capacity, excluding any officiants, funeral directors, clergy and staff members, while maintaining social distance between household units of at least six (6) feet. A funeral or memorial service provider that cannot maintain this space must further reduce occupancy capacity until this is achieved. Additionally, funeral and memorial service providers should, to the greatest extent practicable, conduct alternative services, including recorded video and live video internet broadcasted services (e.g. live streaming social media broadcasts).

Funeral and memorial service providers, for outdoor funerals, memorials or graveside services, should encourage services which allow their attendees remain in their vehicles and not socialize through their vehicle windows, except at a distance of more than six (6) feet. Attendees should turn off their vehicles to avoid idling and protect everyone’s health. If drive-up outdoor services are not possible, attendees to an outdoor service must maintain of at least six feet of social distance, if they are not of the same household.

Funeral and memorial service providers should ensure, to the greatest extent practicable, that officiants, funeral directors, clergy, staff-employees, and service attendees wear coverings (e.g., cloth mask or bandana) over their mouths and noses while attending services.

Funeral and memorial service providers should, to the greatest extent practicable, limit congregational singing during services, as doing so may aerosolize infectious particles. To the extent practicable, funeral and memorial providers should consider alternatives to congregational singing, including by playing pre-recorded or live instrumental music (e.g. pianos and guitars – no wind instruments) during services.

Funeral and memorial service providers should consider taking attendees’ temperatures and asking about signs of illness before admitting them into the funeral home, house of worship or other buildings where funeral or memorial services are held.

Funeral and memorial service providers should not allow individuals with elevated temperatures or signs of illness (coughing, runny nose, sneezing) to attend in-person services. Funeral and memorial service providers should direct those having symptoms of COVID-19, as well as people who have had close contact with a person who has symptoms like dry cough, chest tightness, and/or fever, to refrain from participating in any aspect of in-person services and stay at home or seek immediate medical care.

Funeral and memorial service providers making restrooms available must ensure restrooms are only used by one person at a time and high touch surfaces are appropriately disinfected after each use (e.g. doorknobs and handles).

Funeral and memorial service providers conducting in-person services must, to the greatest extent practicable, provide hand sanitizer, handwashing facilities, tissues and waste baskets in convenient locations.

Funeral and memorial service providers should not provide communal food or beverages to officiants, funeral directors, clergy, staff-employees, or attendees.

Funeral and memorial service providers should restrict access to common areas, to the greatest extent practicable, in order to maximize social distancing and reduce congregating. These common areas include, but are not limited to, foyers, lobbies, vending areas, and community and multi-purpose rooms. Funeral and memorial service providers should arrange seating that allows for social distancing of at least six feet separation between family or same household attendees.

Funeral and memorial service providers should, to the greatest extent practicable, find and encourage alternatives to handshaking, handholding and hugging.

Funeral and memorial service providers should encourage those at higher risk for severe illness per CDC guidelines not to attend in-person services. These guidelines are available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#Higher-Risk. Instead, funeral and memorial service providers should, to the greatest extent practicable, provide alternative services, including live streaming social media broadcasts. If a funeral or memorial service provider is unable to provide alternative services, they should, to the greatest extent practicable, implement hours where service can be safely provided to congregants at higher risk for severe illness.

Funeral service providers should encourage funeral directors, staff and pallbearers to take precautions to stay safe while they are in close proximity to one another while honoring the deceased (e.g. wearing masks and minimize verbal interaction).

Cleaning and Disinfecting Requirements

Funeral and memorial service providers should ensure facilities are properly cleaned and ventilated.

Funeral and memorial service providers must ensure cleaning and sanitation of frequently touched surfaces with appropriate disinfectants. Appropriate disinfectants include EPA registered household disinfectants, diluted household bleach solution, and alcohol solutions containing at least 60% alcohol. Funeral and memorial service providers must establish a cleaning and disinfecting process that follows CDC guidelines when any individual is identified, suspected, or confirmed as COVID-19 positive.

Funeral and memorial service providers, as appropriate, must ensure they do not us cleaning procedures that could re-aerosolize infectious particles. This includes, but is not limited to, avoiding practices such as dry sweeping or use of high-pressure streams of air, water, or cleaning chemicals.

Funeral and memorial service providers should put into place protocols to reduce or eliminate repeat touching of surfaces by officiants, funeral directors, clergy, staff employees and attendees (e.g. flowers or flower arrangements, microphones, doors and doorknobs or handles). If alternative expressions of support (e.g. donations to charitable organizations representing a cause the deceased or their family supports) would aide in reducing repeat touching, then funeral or memorial service providers should consider encouraging those options.

Training and Safety Requirements

Funeral and memorial service providers should ensure appropriate signage is posted throughout their facilities to inform officiants, funeral directors, clergy, staff-employees, and congregants about good hygiene and new practices.

Funeral and memorial service providers should ensure officiants, funeral directors, clergy, staff-employees, and congregants are instructed to avoid touching their faces, including their eyes, noses, and mouths, particularly until after they have thoroughly washed their hands upon completing work and/or removing PPE, to the greatest extent practicable.

Funeral and memorial service providers should ensure officiants, funeral directors, clergy, staff-employees, and congregants are informed that they may identify and communicate potential improvements and/or concerns in order to reduce potential risk of exposure.

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