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Planning a Funeral During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Your Funeral Director is Here to Help

When a loved one dies, it’s natural to want to honor that person’s life with a gathering of friends and family. A funeral or memorial tribute provides family members and friends an environment to offer comfort, support to one another and share their thoughts and feelings about the life of the deceased. Therefore, learning that you’re unable to have the type of gathering you would like to have because of the COVID-19 pandemic can be disappointing and even devastating news.

The importance of having a funeral to honor the deceased and giving loved ones an opportunity to celebrate that life and begin to grieve is unquestioned. Your funeral director is committed to providing you with the opportunity to say goodbye to your loved one and give other family members and friends the opportunity to do the same - even during these challenging times. 

The unprecedented novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, however, requires funeral professionals to balance their long-held values with the need to: flatten the curve of the pandemic; protect the health of attendees, funeral home staff and clergy/celebrant; and reduce the potential for community spread and mass-fatalities.

Therefore, if you are planning a funeral during the current health crisis, regardless of the cause of death, your funeral director will likely be following the current guidance from the National Funeral Directors Association, the world’s largest funeral service association for funeral service professionals, and the CDC.

Social Distancing During Visitations and Funerals 

As many communities in the United States begin to reopen, the number of attendees allowed at large gatherings—including visitations and funerals— varies greatly from place to place. Regardless of whether that number of attendees is 10, 50 or more, however, the need to practice proper social distancing is critical for protecting the health of attendees, funeral home staff and the clergy/celebrants. 

Proper social distancing is a vital tool for minimizing the spread of COVID-19. According to the CDC “Considerations for Gatherings and Events," the risk of COVID-19 spreading at events and gatherings increases as follows: 

Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings. More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county). 

Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.

Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area. 

While there are a variety methods for achieving proper social distancing, they are meant to supplement—not replace—any state or local safety laws, rules and regulations with which gatherings must comply. 

According to the CDC, social distancing and everyday preventative actions should always be practiced at visitations and funerals, including: 
  • Holding services and/or gatherings in large, well-ventilated areas or outside. 
  • Spacing seats for attendees who do not live in the same household at least six feet apart. 
  • Requiring attendees who do not live in the same household to stay six feet apart and to wear a cloth face mask when interacting with others who do not live in their household. 
  • Asking guests to scale back direct contact with the family and other attendees, including not shaking hands, hugging or kissing, etc.
Your funeral director recognizes this limit is very difficult for families who are grieving the death of a loved one but asks for your understanding during this challenging time. Funeral directors will continue to do all they can to help families understand the options they have for commemorating the life of a loved one in a manner that is safe for everyone involved.

Guidance from the CDC

For additional guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, read Funeral Guidance for Individuals and Families.

What You Should Expect When Arranging A Funeral

Your funeral director is here to help, whether you’re planning a small, family-only service or a larger gathering in the future. Regardless of your specific wishes, it is important to note that, to ensure your safety and the safety of funeral home staff, your funeral director will be taking additional precautions when helping you make arrangements.

  • When you call your funeral director to set up an arrangement conference, he or she will likely ask if anyone is feeling ill or if anyone is known to have been exposed to COVID-19. If so, he or she will request that those individuals stay home or join in the discussion by teleconference.

  • You may also be asked to limit the number of people who come to the funeral home for the arrangement conference. Other family members may be able to join the discussion by teleconference. 
  • For your safety, and that of funeral home staff, you may be asked to wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) upon arrival at the funeral home and again before you leave. In addition, the funeral director will likely politely decline to shake your hand, again for the safety of everyone involved. He or she will also maintain social distancing requirements of at least six feet at all times and may ask you to wear a protective mask.
  • For your safety and the safety of funeral home staff, your funeral director may request to make funeral arrangements via video conferencing (webcasting, facetiming or live-streaming) in lieu of an in-person arrangement conference.
  • Your funeral director should inform you about federal, state and local mandates and recommendations (including those listed above) – as well as guidelines issued by local cemeteries – that may affect your funeral arrangements. 

If your loved one has died from complications due to COVID-19, your funeral director will, for the safety of your family and the safety of funeral home staff, take extra precautions when handling and preparing the body of your loved one. If you’ve made the choice to embalm the body of your loved one, speak with your funeral director about current guidance regarding embalming and any internal guidelines the funeral home may be following.   

Questions You May Want to Ask Your Funeral Director

What are my options if I’m unable to have the funeral I would like to have at this time?

If you’re restricted to having only immediate family at a funeral or if local restrictions prevent you from having even a small funeral, talk to your funeral director about your options for delaying a service or holding a memorial service in the future.

Does the funeral home provide webcasting services?

Many funeral homes are equipped to webcast a funeral service for guests who are unable to attend. This option provides you with the opportunity to invite family and friends to watch the service from the comfort of their homes.

What is the funeral home doing to limit exposure to COVID-19?

Your funeral home should be following all CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of you, your family and funeral home staff. Your funeral director can advise you regarding the specific precautions they are taking.

Do I need to be concerned about attending the funeral of someone who has died of COVID-19?

At this time, CDC guidance states, "There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19." However, the CDC also notes, "People should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19."