As the coronavirus death toll mounts, funeral home employees struggle to remain safe in the workplace. Families losing loved ones to COVID-19 often find it difficult to see past their grief and remember safe social distancing practices.

It’s almost impossible to tell broken-hearted people that tears and hugs transfer the contagion and linger on funeral home surfaces. Like the much-heralded first responders and frontlines health care professionals, essential funeral home workers require a stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizers, and deep cleaning products. In an effort to stop the spread, International Enviroguard makes industry-leading PPE for funeral workers and others.

COVID-19 Funeral Workers at High-Risk

The guidelines for reducing the coronavirus spread have been something of a perfect storm for funeral workers. State mandates have all-but eliminated church gatherings. Church-held funeral Masses would generally exceed safe numbers even if grieving community members wore PPE. With most churches mostly shuttered, paying respects has been almost entirely deferred to funeral homes or graveside services.

Recognizing that workers are in harm’s way, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has been conveying emerging news to industry professionals. Given COVID-19 is a relatively new contagion and researchers are still compiling data, the NFDA has been working diligently to quell misinformation examples such as the following.

After the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine published a confusing letter that implied COVID-19 could be contracted from dead bodies, the NFDA contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for clarification.

After the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine published a confusing letter that implied COVID-19 could be contracted from dead bodies, the NFDA contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for clarification. The subsequent response indicated that I was unclear whether an autopsy conducted on a deceased COVID-19 patient. The letter also failed to clarify whether PPE was used to control virus transmission in the environment. But the salient issue for funeral home employees was that no connection between mortuary tasks has reportedly resulted in a confirmed COVID-19 death.

Scientists have already confirmed cross-infection from animals such as bats and certain cats to humans. But limited data continues to drive fear and anxiety among essential workers in every sector. What we don’t know about the coronavirus has funeral home workers relying on enhanced vigilance to avoid contracting the contagion.

NFDA Urges Best Practices When Making Arrangements

Although it remains in every funeral director’s best interest to conduct arrangement conferences by telephone, it’s difficult to bypass the visual elements of wakes and services. In-person discussions often put directors in close proximity to grieving family members who may have been exposed. This holds particularly true of survivors whose loved one died as a result of coronavirus infection. In the interest of heightened safety, the NFDA encourages directors to consider the following protocols.

  • Have funeral home staff members stay home if they may have been exposed or feel sick.
  • Compassionately ask sick or potentially exposed family members to join via video conferencing.
  • Limit number of people attending an arrangement conference to as few as possible.
  • Ask family members to sanitize hands when entering and exiting the facility.
  • Setup hand sanitizing and tissue stations throughout the facility.
  • Explain, in advance, that CDC and state guidelines do not allow you to shake hands or make physical contact.
  • Politely explain that social distancing guidelines apply within the funeral home.
  • Disinfect and clean surfaces after family members leave the facility.

Although funeral homes tend to be an in-person operation, the NFDA suggests that leveraging standard video conferencing technologies such as Face Time, Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts, among others, provides the safest means of communication during the health crisis. Many municipalities have also made procedural changes that now allow for emailed or texted funeral arrangement agreements, and e-signatures, among others.

Standard CDC Safety Measures for Funeral Home Transfers

The NFDA website indicates that essential workers are tasked with following CDC guidelines in terms of PPE use at all appropriate times. When transferring someone who died of a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 from hospitals, elderly care facilities, or homes, among others, health and safety protocols are urged. These include following standard precautions and wearing PPE, including face masks. The CDC and NFDA support the following procedures.

  • Wash hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol before touching the body or contact surfaces.
  • Wear standard PPE that includes face masks, eye protection, gloves, and disposable gowns.
  • Wear additional PPE for splash and aerosolization precautions such as face shields, goggles, and respiratory protection when appropriate.
  • Place decedent carefully in a body bag while avoiding splashing or aerosolization of fluids.
  • Disinfect exterior of the bag with an EPA-approved product that eliminates pathogens.
  • Wear personal protective gloves when moving the body and body bag into the vehicle.
  • Remove and dispose of gloves and repeat and sanitization process before driving a vehicle.
  • Put on disposable gloves and full PPE before transferring the body into the facility.
  • Again, remove and dispose of gloves and repeat and sanitization process before leaving.

The CDC advocates for determined PPE diligence during the embalming process, and funeral home workers are urged to maintain heightened vigilance.

CDC Urges Heightened Funeral Home Safety Measures

Many essential workers have concerns about how to best protect themselves. As an increased number of funerals are performed with significant health concerns, the CDC has published the latest information. This is what the CDC says about coming into contact with the deceased.

  • Researchers are still learning about how this new disease spreads.
  • Existing data points to close contact — within six feet — as a primary cause of the spread.
  • Respiratory drops from coughing and sneezing transmit COVID-19, much like influenza.
  • Others typically inhale contaminated droplets

The health agency does discourage contact with the bodies of those who passed away while infected by the coronavirus. The CDC also points out that funeral home workers and religious leaders conducting services should reduce contact to a minimum whenever possible.

The health agency does discourage contact with the bodies of those who passed away while infected by the coronavirus. The CDC also points out that funeral home workers and religious leaders conducting services should reduce contact to a minimum whenever possible.

The CDC urges those whose cultural or religious practices include shrouding the decedent’s body to work closely with community leaders and funeral home professionals to minimize exposure. The health agency strongly urges all parties to wear disposable gloves, respirators, face shields, gowns, coveralls, and other appropriate PPE at all times during the process.

Appropriate PPE for Funeral Home Workers

Organizations such as OSHA and the CDC have long-standing guidelines in place regarding appropriate PPE. These and other health and safety agencies craft minimum industry standards for products that are routinely exceeded by PPE manufacturers such as International Enviroguard.

  • Gowns: Such protective clothing should be worn when fluids could potentially transfer coronavirus contamination from infected parties, liquids, or surfaces. Gowns must be fluid-resistant or impermeable. According to the CDC, fluid splatters are a low-risk COVID-19 factor, and minimal gowns may be necessary.
  • Gloves: The CDC recommends nonsterile disposable glove use for workers in environments of suspected COVID-19 cases.
  • Coveralls: This type of PPE delivers 360-degree protection from splatters and contact with surfaces infected by the coronavirus. Coveralls typically provide total body protection when used with accessories.
  • Respirators and Masks: The N95 FFR respirator can filter out a minimum of 95 percent of airborne particles and pathogens. When not available, workers are urged to utilize surgical masks or the best possible option.

The shortage of PPE has placed a substantial health and safety burden on essential workers, such as funeral home personnel. International Enviroguard produces trustworthy disposable personal protective clothing and accessories for at-risk essential workers. For more information about products for funeral home workers, visit International Enviroguard.