Is It Safe to View the Body of a Person who Died from COVID-19?

We have been receiving a lot of calls from people who are contemplating attending funerals and viewings of people who died during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They are rightfully concerned about how safe it is and how closed can they get to the body.  Although there are still many questions to answer about this new disease, the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC)  has published guidelines based on current scientific knowledge. Here we offer a summary of those guidelines.

Is the Body Infectious?

The virus spreads from live individuals mainly through respiratory droplets when a person talks, coughs, or sneezes. Live virus has been detected in the feces of infected people, and so caregivers or family members who are in close contact with infected persons have to take precautions when touching the person.  That is the purpose of masks, gloves, protective clothing, and frequent hand and face washing.

After death, a person is washed and often embalmed. Although embalming does not guarantee that all virus has been destroyed, it substantially decreases the possibility that any virus can be transmitted.  Any such possibility is further reduced by not touching the deceased person, such as kissing or hugging.

There is virtually no chance of contracting the virus from the deceased if proper distance is maintained. That distance may be as little as several feet.

CDC guidelines suggest that caregivers and family members may safely handle the body as long as standard protective precautions are takes. In the United States, these procedures have already been performed by the funeral service provider. See the CDC guidelines HERE.  The PDF brochure compares COVID-19 to Ebola.

Live People Attending the Viewing or Funeral are a Greater Danger

The biggest danger of contracting infection is from other people attending the funeral or viewing.  They may be infected but not have any symptoms.

During the pandemic, people have learned social distancing, the use of masks, and other safeguards to avoid infection. But during emotional events like a funeral, people may forget and offer a quick hug or touch. The danger is still relatively low but not zero.

State and local governments periodically impose restrictions on how many people may attend a funeral. We strictly enforce these guidelines and encourage people to comply at all times with current recommendations. Nevertheless, the guidelines do not reduce the chance of contracting the infection to zero. People must use their own judgement based on their personal vulnerabilities to decide whether to attend a funeral.

Factors that Add to Dangers of Contracting COVID-19

The CDC publishes a list of factors that contribute to unfavorable outcomes of people who contract the virus. Unfortunately older people are at greater risk of suffering a severe infection or even death.  They are often the ones who want to attend a funeral of a deceased friend of similar age. As sad as it may be, we advise vulnerable people to not attend a funeral if it means exposing themselves to other people in enclosed spaces.  Being outside or in very large churches with fewer people greatly reduces the risk of transmission.

Some families have special viewing times for separate age groups.  This way a few older people can attend a viewing safely before other guests arrive.

People at Increased Risk for Severe Illness

Some people are more likely than others to become severely ill: