Jefferson County funeral homes remain committed and prepared to safely care for the families it serves during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Jefferson County funeral homes remain committed and prepared to safely care for the families it serves during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Not only are funeral homes protecting themselves and the families that they serve, but also the deceased.

On March 15, the CDC issued new guidance for mass gatherings recommending that for the next eight weeks (until May 10), organizers cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.

On March 16, the White House released “The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America - 15 Days to Slow the Spread.” Among these guidelines are that people “Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people” for the next 15 days (until March 31).

This recommendation would impact funerals and viewings.

President and CEO of Paradise Funeral Home in Pine Bluff, J. Morrill Gray said he recognizes his responsibilities to protect the health of those he is privilege to serve. “We will continue to guide families, as we always have, in ways they can meaningfully commemorate the life of their loved one, while adhering to the guidance issued by federal, state and local public health officials,” said Gray.

Chilton Blunt, a 10-year licensed funeral director of Paradise Funeral Home said when it comes to making arrangements with the families it’s hard now that the safety precautions have been put into place.

“In this industry you love to hug and console people, so it’s hard not to become social with them but we have to all stay as safe as possible during these times,” said Blunt. “We have limited the number of family members that come in and make arrangements for the deceased to up to three people.”

Blunt said they are also suggesting families do a visitation and private funeral instead of a wake and church service. “With a visitation people, are in and out,” said Blunt. “You are not in a position where there are 100 people sitting around. Most visitations you come in and look at the body and you leave.”

Marshall Kelly, Director of Brown Funeral Home in Pine Bluff says they are following the guidelines set by the NFDA. “We have implemented protocols when it comes to congregated crowds, “said Kelley. The number of people at a funeral will be limited.”

According to the CDC, at this time, there is no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19; however, federal, state and local public health guidance have impacted the size of a gathering a family.

CDC also recommends because COVID-19 is a new disease and they are still learning how it spreads, people should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19.

According to Blunt, their mortuary service, Ruff Mortuary in Little Rock, has already came in contact with three out of state deaths from the corona virus. According to the CDC, bodies of those who die of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 can safely be transported and embalmed. The guidance states: "If it is necessary to transfer a body to a bag, follow Standard Precautions, including additional personal protective equipment (PPE) if splashing of fluids is expected."

“Our mortuary service that handles the embalming has been very instrumental in keeping the workers protected when it comes to making the removal of the deceased,” said Blunt. “The National Funeral Directors Association has stated that one thing we need to do is cover the mouth and the face area of the deceased when you make a removal because when you are aspirating them or any type of gasped of air is expelled, that’s when it becomes contagious.”

Blunt said they have minimized their death call to one person who will make those removals. “When he goes on a removal he goes with the right gear on,” said Blunt. “Not only do we want to provide good services to the family but we want to take care of ourselves as well to protect us.”

“The older generation is the generation that is really suffering from this virus so you really want to make sure you are protecting them,” said Blunt. “As you come in contact with them you never know if you are carrying the virus yourself.”

When families come to view their loved one, kissing, washing and shrouding should be avoided before, during, and after the body has been prepared according to CDC.

For families who are coming to funeral homes to make arrangements the NFDA has recommended all funeral homes to do the following:

Encourage people who are ill or who are part of an at-risk population (e.g., the elderly, immune-compromised, etc.) to stay home.

Remind families how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as by staying home if you are sick, social distancing, washing your hands, and covering coughs and sneezes.

Keep soap dispensers filled in public (and employee) restrooms.

Offer alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to guests (and employees).

Have extra tissues on hand.

“As a business open to the public, it’s important that we be vigilant about cleaning, especially after services or arrangement conferences,” said Blunt. “Every morning and every evening when everyone has left we have a crew come in and sanitize the entire building. We also offer masks to families and provide no-touch hand sanitizers and automatic Lysol sprayers throughout our facility.”

Blunt says the NFDA continues to lead the conversation with federal officials about the role of funeral service during the COVID-19 pandemic and they are dedicated to sharing accurate, reliable information from trustworthy sources and are doing so as quickly as we can.

Gray adds that the virus has made him and his staff more cautious and aware.

“Our staff remains vigilant about cleaning our facilities and ensuring we’re all following recommended healthy habits, such as staying home when sick, washing our hands, and covering coughs and sneezes,” said Gray. “The CDC and our state and local public health officials have offered a lot of helpful guidance for businesses on this topic, which we continue to follow.”