COVID-19 and the funeral industry: Families have options to consider

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Video streaming options available through Phaneuf and Cremation Society of NH. Courtesy Photo

MANCHESTER, NH — Like most small businesses in the country, both Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium and sister company the Cremation Society of New Hampshire (CSNH) are actively discussing and taking precautions for COVID-19 a.k.a. novel coronavirus disease 2019. Phaneuf takes the well-being of the communities it serves very seriously. Here is how the Coronavirus is affecting funerals, including information from the National Funeral Directors Association and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“With things evolving daily, we are trying to stay on top of the COVID-19 Pandemic and keep our staff and visitors safe,” said Buddy Phaneuf, President of Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium and the Cremation Society of New Hampshire. “Our dedicated team and the families we serve are our top priorities. We are currently monitoring the situation and working on developing additional policies as the situation evolves.”

The effect on services

Both Phaneuf and CNSH have already encountered the first families who have chosen to postpone, modify or cancel services due to the outbreak. Their teams are working closely with families to determine what’s most appropriate, considering a family’s particular circumstances. The CDC recommends no public gatherings of 50+ people for the next eight weeks, so Phaneuf is encouraging small, private or immediate-family-only services for the time being.

Phaneuf and CSNH have the ability to live-stream services from the location at 243 Hanover Street in Manchester, NH. This allows families to host a smaller in-person gathering and have extended family, friends and colleagues participate while also following the current guidelines for “social distancing.”

The live-streaming service is an option for those with family members and friends who want to take part in a service, but do not feel comfortable traveling far distances or even leaving their homes while the coronavirus affects the country. For at least the next 60 days, the live-streaming services will be free of charge.

“Our streaming ability creates a sense of unity for the service, since people both near and far can be a part of it,” says Buddy Phaneuf.

While the facilities staff is diligent about cleaning public areas and offering hand sanitizer throughout the funeral homes, Phaneuf’s team is also able to make all arrangements over the phone or online if people prefer not to visit the offices.

Your questions answered

The Coronavirus spread brings lots of questions, some related to funeral and cremation services and those who die with the virus, and here are the answers to some of the top questions the industry is hearing.

Is it safe to attend a funeral of someone who died with the virus?

The short answer is yes.  According to the CDC, “There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19.” However, “People should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19.”

For now, public gatherings the size of a visitation or funeral and cremation service are not canceled, but Phaneuf will follow the recommendations or requirements of local authorities as the situation continues.

Can someone who dies with the virus be buried or cremated?

Yes, someone who dies carrying the Coronavirus can still be cremated or buried as per the family’s wishes, but the CDC does recommend funeral homes check “for any additional state and local requirements that may dictate the handling and disposition of the remains of individuals who have died of certain infectious diseases.”

Precautions being taken at Phaneuf Funeral Homes

“While we are not on the front lines like health care workers, we must be able to maintain adequate staffing levels so we can continue to care for the deceased,” said Buddy Phaneuf.

To help prevent infection with Coronavirus and other illnesses, Phaneuf’s staff has been educated and is taking the recommended precautions including:

  • Staff meetings are taking place over the phone and online.

  • Washing hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water. If unavailable, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Covering mouth and nose with a sleeve or tissue during a sneeze or cough.

  • Avoiding close contact (touching or shaking hands).

  • Avoiding touching mouth, nose, and eyes with unwashed hands.

  • Staying home when sick.

  • Getting adequate sleep and eating well-balanced meals to ensure a healthy immune system.

  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.