COVID-19 and Your Funeral Home

April 29, 2020

There are guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of this disease, but families still need to mourn on some level no matter what is going on around them. Funeral homes are more important now than ever. They now have a responsibility to help families heal within new guidelines. Neighborhood funeral homes, especially those in lower-populated areas and rural areas, may have never thought about the volume and impact of a pandemic. We understand that this might be the first time that your funeral home has had to handle the shipping process, and we are here to help you through this.

New questions and situations are arising every day. The answers are changing and adapting as quickly as the questions are coming in. Here are the answers to some of the questions we are being asked by funeral directors as this pandemic continues to evolve:

Question: Is NMS in the office to help us at this time?

Answer: Yes. We know you and your funeral home remain open and staffed to help families during this time, so we remain here for you. Because National Mortuary Shipping and Cremation is also an embalming and cremation facility, most of our staff is here to ensure that we can help you with your shipping, embalming, and cremation needs. Because of our proprietary software, we have been able to move some of our shipping specialists off-site, but they continue to provide you with the same service and efficiency you have come to expect from NMS.

Question: What is required for remains to be allowed back into the United States if the decedent died of COVID-19?

Answer: The CDC is changing the requirements quite often as this is an ever-evolving situation. NMS is staying on top of the latest updates, so if you have questions or need assistance with shipping, we are here to help.

Question: What can we do to keep our employees safe during this time?

Answer: The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has a wonderful resource page with many links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help funeral directors sift through information and find ways to help their employees stay safe during this time. Many of the guidelines to keep workers in your funeral home safe are the same guidelines used by the general public:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, ensuring to wash all parts of the hands and fingers vigorously.
  • Wear a cover over the mouth and nose.
  • If soap and water are not immediately available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with others, sick or not, and try to keep a distance of 6 feet when possible

The CDC has some great resources that you can print and hang around your facility to remind your employees of ways to remain safe in the workplace.

Question: Where can I get my employees the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)? 

Answer: Right now, supplies are extremely low. The NFDA is actively trying to procure as much PPE as they can for funeral homes around the country. You can check for availability from the NFDA also released information to help workers sanitize and reuse their current PPE until new gear becomes available.

Many states have also requested assistance with PPE. You can reach out to your state or local health department to see what kind of assistance is available.

Question: Is it safe to embalm decedents during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Answer: We recommend following the CDC’s Postmortem Guide to see precautions to take when conducting aerosol generating procedures. We also suggest protecting yourself and others from potential exposure by making sure the deceased’s face is covered as much as possible during the embalming process and packing the orifices of the face with cotton soaked in a disinfectant.

Some embalmers also recommend severing the trachea through the carotid incision and packing with cotton as an additional preventive precaution. When aspirating the deceased, we recommend injecting cavity fluid directly into the lungs and letting the fluid sit for 30 minutes prior to aspirating. Handling the remains should be done with care, using PPE equipment and following sanitization guidelines to keep all metal and plastic surfaces clean while working on the decedent. Use products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claim to combat the virus on all surfaces.

Question: Is burying the remains of a COVID-19 patient still an option? 

Answer: We are constantly researching and staying up to date with regulations, and what we currently know is that there has not been any law preventing the burial of remains.

Question: What is required for remains to be shipped out of the country if the decedent died of COVID-19?

Answer: The requirements to ship a deceased to another country vary widely and are often changing. We continue to monitor international regulations for shipping human remains internationally. If you have a question or need to repatriate remains into another country, call one of our knowledgeable shipping specialists, and we can assist you.

Question: What advice do you give to funeral homes who are still hosting funeral services for groups of 10 or less?

Answer: Here are some additional precautions that you can take to ensure the safety of the families you are serving during this tough time:

  • Maintain 6 ft. social distance at all times.
  • Insist that your staff avoids contact (hugs, handshakes, etc.) with families and other staff members.
  • Keep doors open to prevent visitors from touching doorknobs.
  • Keep soap dispensers full throughout the funeral home.
  • Provide hand sanitizer in all rooms.
  • Have extra tissues available for guests.
  • Provide hand sanitizer next to the guest book as well as wipes if available and ask guests to wipe before and after using the pen or use a digital-formatted registry that allows guests to complete the guest book using their phones or computer.

Question: What alternatives can be offered for families that want to avoid coming to the funeral home?

Answer: Many homes are utilizing video and webcasting services when possible to help eliminate families wanting to come to the home for funerals. Many families are also opting to postpone ceremonies until a later date, especially if the decedent has been cremated. 

How can we help? We understand this is a difficult and confusing time in the funeral profession. We are proud to be part of a profession that is helping during this pandemic, and we will continue to work together with other funeral professionals around the globe. Let NMS know what questions you have that you aren’t finding answers to and allow us to check into them for you! As always, if you need help with a sudden influx of shipping needs and you aren’t sure what to do, you are in good hands with NMS. Our team is working tirelessly to help your funeral home take care of the families you serve during this tough time!

Let us know how we can help!