NOTICE TO THE PROFESSION: GUIDANCE 2 ON COVID-19 FOR FUNERAL PROFESSIONALS

March 17,2020

There is no question that we are in novel and uncertain times. It’s a good opportunity to reflect on why the funeral profession is called “a profession” and the people working within it are referred to as “professionals.” Funeral professionals have a unique set of values, behaviours, and relationships that underpin the trust and confidence of the families they serve and their communities they are part of.

Most of you know that I’m not from your profession, but I have always admired funeral professionals because of those values, and because you are charged with a profoundly special task: the task of relieving anxiety, of bringing comfort to grieving families and most importantly, of being trusted with preserving the dignity and safe-keeping of those taken under your care. You promote calm and reassurance. Now, more than ever, is the time to show the title of professional is deserved. It is time to rely on your training and experience. You’ve got this.  

The following answers some of the questions we have received at the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) recently. It is important to monitor the messaging from the health authorities as the situation can change quickly.

The health authorities are recommending staying home and avoiding large gatherings, can we still have funerals and visitations?

This morning the Province of Ontario declared a state of emergency and announced funding for increased healthcare services. Premier Doug Ford also announced that all gatherings are now restricted to 50 people, the closing of churches and other faith settings, plus closing all recreational programs, libraries, private schools, daycares, bars and restaurants, except for takeout or delivery. These restrictions, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, are to be in place until March 31. This could change as well, of course.

I recommend that you discuss concerns and options with the families you serve. You may find that consumers will make the choice for you and opt for lower risk alternatives, such as direct cremation and celebration, deferring the funeral, staggering or splitting the visitation, video conferencing. Remember, guests attending your funeral home should practice:

– Social distancing – put a distance between others
– Hand hygiene: Keep soap dispensers filled in all washrooms. Have hand sanitizer readily available at all entrance points.
– Cough/sneeze etiquette: cover coughs and sneeze into your elbow. Have extra tissues readily available
– Post reminders of how to prevent being infected: clean hands often, put a distance between others, stay home if sick, cover coughs and sneezes
– Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently and meticulously: tabletops, mobile phones, keyboards, landlines, nametags, commonly touched surfaces such as light switches, countertops, chair arms, railings, doorknobs, and handles.

Am I or my staff at increased risk working in a funeral establishment?

The BAO monitors information from various health sources. There is no known evidence of postmortem spread of the virus. There is no known risk associated with being in the same room with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19. That said, it is important to take precautions.

Arrangement Meetings

Perhaps the biggest risk of infection occurs in the arrangements office, due to the close proximity of people.  Use a spacious area to meet with the family; have guests keep a spare chair between them; use phone, email or video as alternatives to a physical meeting, and e-signature applications, such as DocuSign, to sign paperwork.

Preparation

There is no reason not to prepare a COVID-19 decedent as long as you follow your routine precautions. COVID-19 is spread by droplet and contact. It is not principally an airborne virus. Therefore, ensuring routine droplet barrier precautions, environmental hygiene, and overall sound infection prevention is the best way to prevent infection.

Remember, there are many infectious things that can stay alive on a surface and hurt you (such as hepatitis.) You should always take precautions as if every person is a carrier of something and be diligent about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).  You should be wearing N95 masks when embalming, otherwise that type of mask isn’t required. 

Do I have to self-isolate if I prepare a body that has COVID-19?

Similar to a healthcare worker, there should be no reason to self-isolate if you have followed the precautions that you’ve been trained to do.

What if the family wants to delay a funeral, what should I do about storing the deceased?

Class 1 Funeral Directors have been trained to take extra measures in embalming that should be taken if the deceased needs to be stored and refrigeration isn’t available.

Are there any dispositions that aren’t available?

Bodies can be interred in a cemetery or mausoleum, cremated or hydrolyzed. (Per the Funeral Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002 (FBCSA) regulations, a crematorium can refuse to accept a body for cremation.)

You are professionals. Rely on your training and experience. I know you’ve got this.

-Carey Smith, CEO/Registrar, BAO

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