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Missouri Funeral Homes Adapt As Coronavirus Pandemic Continues

Ronald Jones adjusts a casket in his funeral home's display room. (May 16, 2018)
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Ronald Jones adjusts a casket in his funeral home's display room in this May 16, 2018, file photo.

Funeral services are joining a growing list of events that are being affected by the coronavirus.

In both Missouri and Illinois, public officials have limited gatherings to 10 people or fewer, making it virtually impossible to hold traditional services. 

Many funeral homes now are suggesting small graveside services or offering livestream services instead.

“It does allow a lot of different people to be able to view a funeral where they will not be able to attend in person,” said Donald Otto, the executive director of the Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association. 

Some families may decide to hold a larger memorial or service at some point in the future, but for the time being, Otto said, a full-fledged funeral isn’t possible. 

“Most families that I have had contact with have been extremely understanding,” he said. “They don’t want to be part of the transmission process either. Most families completely agree that it would be a double tragedy that if because of their event violating the regulations that are in place, somebody might contract this that otherwise might not have.” 

Gov. Mike Parson issued a social distancing measure that prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people. The same rule applies in St. Louis.Yet in Kansas City, funerals, wakes and memorials have been put on hold, even those with fewer than 10 people. 

“At least as of this point, there’s been no indication that the Missouri order supersedes any local order,” Otto said. “So the families and the funeral directors have to be very careful to know and observe both the state and whatever local order that may be in place. In much of the state of Missouri, a funeral or visitation of 10 people or less is still permitted.”

The changes also mean no physical contact. At funeral services, where extending a handshake or hugging a family member or friend has been the norm, funeral directors are now discouraging it. 

Otto said this guidance came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Even if it’s only under the 10-person limit that those activities are discouraged and not appropriate,” he said. “There is no law in place that you can’t hug your mother who’s crying. And no one is going to get arrested for hugging their crying mother. But the word does need to get out.”

Four people in the state have died as a result of COVID-19.

While theCDC has said there isn’t any known risk or dangerof being around a person who died of COVID-19 and has been properly embalmed, funeral directors are advising family members not to touch the body. 

Otto said that if you’re sick, it’s even more important to skip the funeral, memorial or visitation.

“People understand that this is an unusual situation, and they will understand if you feel that it is best for you to stay away, because they know that you’re not just protecting yourself,” he said. “You’re protecting the loved ones there and the entire community.”

Families that are uncertain about next steps for planning a service should contact their local funeral homes for guidance. 

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.