Suggestions for Funerals during the Pandemic

Updated on March 20, 2020

All Gatherings, and Funerals must be Postponed in Washington State

Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 16 proclamation closing restaurants, bars, theaters and additional places includes funerals.  On Thursday March 19, the Washington State Department of Licensing clarified the proclamation, adding smaller gatherings such as viewings and witnessed cremations to the list of prohibited gatherings.

Gov. Inslee suggested that the proclamation would be extended past March 31.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previous Suggestions

We have retained the following information that was posted before the new restrictions were implemented:

Planning a funeral often involves a public gathering for a funeral service or viewing. To help you in your planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have gathered the following information from authoritative sources.

Recommendations by Public Authorities for Gathering

Various governmental agencies have made recommendations for public gatherings during the pandemic to slow the spread of COVID-19

One of our families recently had a fairly large funeral gathering at Heritage Hall. They had excellent suggestions to protect those in attendance. This was BEFORE the state and federal governments came out with their own rules. At the time of their event, they followed recommendations by the City of Kirkland and King County:

Event organizers must ensure that:

  • Older and vulnerable individuals have been encouraged not to attend
  • Recommendations for social distancing and limiting close contact are met
  • Employees or volunteers leading an event are screened for symptoms each day
  • Proper hand washing, sanitation, and cleaning are readily available
  • Environmental cleaning guidelines are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently

Regulations by Order of the Governor (Washington State)

Certain events in King, Snohomish, and Pierce County with more than 250 people are prohibited by order of the governor. This applies to sporting events, concerts, conferences, and social and family gatherings in the Seattle region. “It is very highly likely that it will be extended beyond March,” said the governor.  (NOTE – On March 16, 2o20, Pres. Trump urged people to avoid discretionary travel and to limit gathering to fewer that 10 people)

The Washington State Department of Health has an excellent website with information on Pandemic Planning. The information was in response to a previous pandemic, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

Access the Dept. of Health site HERE

 

 

Click HERE to download the CDC’s recommendations

 

Differences between H1N1 Flu and COVID-19

Early evidence suggests that COVID119 is more contagious that the strain of H1N1 that caused the 2009 pandemic and hospitalized at least 1,650 people in Washington. The flu pandemic occurred in 2 waves, the first from April to August 2009, and the second from September through December. The first wave saw young people being struck hardest; the second wave saw an increase in the median age but preschoolers still predominated.

Download here:
H1N1 Influenza in Washington State  – 
A summary of the first year—April 2009–May 2010

Summer may slow COVID-19 down a bit simply because people behave differently in summer. Climates and behavior vary throughout the country.  But because COVID-19 is more contagious, the only way to flatten the curve on this one is for massive changes in behavior, not only in summer, but until a vaccine is available and until natural immunity levels increase.

Changes in Behavior

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health has been remarkably proactive in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. They publically provided information about the virus while the Chinese were still in denial and our officials were discussing it in the hollowed halls of academia.

Switzerland displayed this sign all over the country urging people to wash their hands, cover their cough, etc.  New coronavirus: This is how we protect ourselves.

They specifically identified the key to slowing down the pandemic: “Hygiene rules and how to behave
The Federal Office of Public Health recommends simple measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.”

 

 

Then they discovered something even more important, even NEW: “Keep Your Distance”

 

Keep your Distance

The reason for “Keep Your Distance” is based on the recent observation that people can be infected for several days before showing symptoms. You do not know who they are.

They can be happily running all over town looking for paper towels, toilet paper, bleach, and hauling their recently infected children with them. Then you casually walk through in invisible sneeze cloud emanating from a three-year old barely one foot from the bottle of bleach you are about to pick up on the bottom shelf.  That’s how easy it is.

This “keep your distance” recommendation from Switzerland  is not the general idea expressed in the CDC Recommendations for Seattle-King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties about Social Distancing: “Cancel large gatherings (e.g., group social events with 10 or more people)”

Line to get into a grocery store in Italy

The Swiss citizens that we talk to say that “keep your distance”  means 2 meters from other human beings in public.  The Swiss are disciplined enough that they will make it happen. That’s very difficult to do on New York’s Subways, but it is now very easy on Seattle Mass Transit, which was shut down in the middle of March.

The CDC has another more general publication called “Mitigation Strategies for Communities” that also stresses public distancing. Click the title to download the brochure in PDF format.

Our Suggestions

Now that you have reviewed the basic strategies of the experts, you are in position to plan the appropriate funeral activity for your unique circumstances. We are available help you further understand your options. The basic variables that you are able to control is how many people are together at a gathering at the same time, and how close together are they positioned. Other behaviors like hugging and kissing can be discussed with a handout- a kind of “Emergency Rules for our Funerals.”

Direct Cremation/Immediate Burial

Direct cremation is a disposition option in which the body is cremated without a funeral service beforehand. Immediate burial is the committal of a body soon after death without embalming or a funeral service. Often immediate burial is accompanied by a short graveside service. Both immediate burial and direct cremation keep costs low. More elaborate services can be conducted later, sometimes with a large portrait of the deceased.

Hand Washing or Hand Sanitizer

Supplies of hand sanitizer have become depleted. At our facilities, we have sufficient hand washing supplies and wipes for clients who visit the offices. We regularly disinfect surfaces throughout the day.

We may not have enough for large gathering, so if you anticipate many people, please supply hand sanitizer.  For smaller numbers of people, we can supply hand wipes at as they arrive and leave.

Greeting Gestures

Namaste

Don’t hug or shake hands. There are several nice gestures that can convey your sentiments. Among the best is “Namaste.

It may be hard to adopt new gestures that are not culturally relevant to us. The hand or hands over the heart is one that is gaining some traction because we see politicians doing it to show how much they care. Accompanied by a sincere nod, it can convey your feelings of sympathy.

The easiest is a smile and a nod to acknowledge we are all in this together.

Distance

It is becoming increasingly obvious that maintaining distance is important. The easiest way to do this at a reception or viewing is to assign a time for different people to arrive and leave. A five-minute stay at a viewing is enough to demonstrate solidarity with the family without exposing the family to unwarranted danger. In this way numerous people do not congregate at the same time.

Coffee, Refreshments

Forego refreshments if possible.  Dealing with hand washing, spills, cups, etc. adds a layer of complexity. If you feel it is necessary, we can make arrangements for tables, table covers, coffee, etc.

Delay Public Memorial Services

Many churches are closed. Some gathering places are limiting the size of gatherings. It may make sense to plane a memorial service for a future date when the emergency has abated.

Graveside Services

Traditional graveside services are being conducted as usual, except people are being asked to maintain distances and observe the new suggestions for personal contact.

Veteran Services

All Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration cemeteries are open for burial and visitation by the public, including Tahoma National Cemetery.  In light of concerns regarding COVID-19, some families prefer to proceed with direct interment of their loved ones and postpone the formal committal services to a later date.

If a service at the cemetery is desired the VA has asked that you comply with CDC guidance:

“In light of concerns regarding the community spread of COVID-19, we are strongly urging that all committal services adhere to the CDC guidelines to avoid groups of more than 10 people.  We request your assistance in communicating and adhering to this guidance. “

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