Virus Outbreak Funeral Homes

From left are funeral director assistant Jim McCruary, and funeral directors Daniel Kovacs and Bill Harris, discussing precautions for COVID-19 at Harris Funeral Home in Johnstown, Pa., Thursday, March 19, 2020. The funeral home staff has been using protective gear for years due to diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis, and are taking the same precautions with COVID-19. (John Rucosky/The Tribune-Democrat via AP)

The coronavirus is affecting all aspects of life, including those that are already a difficult time for families, such as funerals.

The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA) has released several lists of guidelines on its webpage for funeral directors to adhere to across the state. As with all social gatherings currently, the PFDA is encouraging that funeral services be delayed or limited to 10 people or fewer. Despite the services being listed as “essential for bringing people together during a period of mourning,” the guidelines state that, while social distancing is difficult during a time of grief since people tend to gather close as part of the emotional healing process, “it is an important step to protect the health of service participants and attendees.”

The guidelines go on to encourage families to restrict burial services to immediate family members and to refrain from physical interactions at these events. They also recommend holding memorial services at a later date once these restrictions are lifted.

Local funeral homes are also taking steps to follow these guidelines and to keep their visitors as safe as possible. Travis Lefdahl with Lefdahl Funeral Home in Indiana said that, while employees haven’t officially discussed their long-term plans, they are aware of the guidelines posted by the PFDA. “I’d encourage people to keep it as private or as small as possible. For their safety and the safety of us, the staff,” he said.

He also acknowledged how hard limiting can be. “If you get people with large families, it can be difficult to limit the amount of people. But, there’s no cases in Indiana right now and you can have people from all over coming in for funerals, so it’s best for the safety of everyone to keep things from spreading.”

Bowser-Minich Funeral Home in Indiana is keeping services limited for the time being. Funeral services are being limited both in attendance and time, with viewings shortened and services following immediately after to limit the amount of time family members need to spend away from home, rather than bringing them in and out for multiple viewings. They are also keeping the numbers limited to allow for more physical space between those who are visiting the funeral home.

The home has not had many funerals and visitations since these guidelines have been in place, and employees were not able to provide exact examples of how the process is working, but they plan to keep these methods in place for the foreseeable future until the restrictions are lifted.

Rick Shoemaker of Shoemaker Funeral Home Inc., in Blairsville, is also following the guidelines presented by the department of health and PFDA. “We’re keeping services to immediate family only and we’re keeping the times of those visitations private as well,” he said.

Shoemaker also directed anyone with questions to a specific list of guidelines that the funeral home posted on its Facebook page. One directive on this particular list is the possibility for the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors will grant extensions to retain decedents beyond the usual 10-day legal timeframe for any families who wish to wait for a public viewing anytime after April 6, which is the earliest date for these restrictions to have the possibility of being lifted.

This doesn’t guarantee a public viewing, however, should these restrictions be extended beyond April 6 per the directions from the Department of Health.

Shoemaker is also offering the option of having services broadcast on its Facebook page at no extra charge as long as permission from the next of kin and the officiating clergy is received.

Beyond these restrictions, Shoemaker said that they’ll be running business as usual.

“We will still have our telephones answered 24 hours a day for anyone who has questions or concerns,” he said. “We just want to take every possible step to make sure people stay safe.”