Funeral services need certain alterations to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions. (Pixabay/Carolynabooth)

Death looks different in a pandemic: B.C. bereavement workers, religious leaders taking new measures

Extra precautions need to be taken to limit exposure to COVID-19, resource shortages a concern

Funeral homes, bereavement workers and religious leaders are facing difficult choices in light of COVID-19, which calls for social distancing and a maximum gathering of 50 people.

However, for bereavement workers, the biggest challenge is access to supplies.

“We do share with other health professional the potential for concern on long-term access to critical supplies we use for personal protective equipment,” said Andy Watson, manager of strategic communications at the BC Coroners Service, in an emailed statement. “We continue to urge the public only to buy what they require, to ensure professionals in the health and safety sector are able to access supplies to safely do their work in health and public safety.”

ALSO READ: COVID-19 precautions ‘not optional,’ B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

Mass sell-outs of items such as hand sanitizers, masks and gloves have made it difficult for health care and bereavement workers to access the materials they need to do their jobs.

This is also seen at funeral homes where workers must wear gowns, gloves, masks, face shields, head covers and disposable slippers while preparing a body for a service.

“We are exposed to communicable diseases on a daily basis; we don’t always know what underlying causes there are to any death that occurs so we’re always using universal precautions,” explained Charlotte Poncelet, executive director of the BC Funeral Association (BCFA). “But the big thing for us is we have not yet been deemed a ‘critical service,’ so we have very extreme concerns about our access to resources like personal protective equipment.”

Along with a shortage of stock, the BCFA is also concerned about a shortage of staff, should any of them need to go into self-isolation or quarantine.

ALSO READ: First responders adjust how they respond to emergencies in face of pandemic

“The morgue capacity is at max on a regular basis — if we don’t have staff to do the transfers and bring them to our care, we need to have some conversations,” Poncelet said.

Staff at funeral homes must also organize funeral services in a way that aligns with provincial health policies.

“Traditionally in a funeral there’s a lot of hugging, touching and that social aspect of grief. We’re having to manage that and try not take away that experience,” said Poncelet.

This means some families are choosing to hold invite-only funerals, monitor numbers of people in a room, and limiting access to the number of people in a building.

The risk of transmission at funerals, said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, is from the living, not the deceased.

“Like many respiratory viruses, you’re not transmitting it to others if you’re not breathing,” Henry said, adding that “If someone has died of COVID-19 it’s very possible their close contacts are harbouring the disease, so it’s important to have the minimum number of people there.”

ALSO READ: View Royal families thank hospital staff working through COVID-19 with colourful signs

This is the thinking of religious leaders as well.

Bishop Gary Gordon, Shepherd of the Diocese of Victoria, said all Catholic gatherings have been suspended, and that ceremonies like funerals, weddings and baptisms are being limited to be as small as possible.

“If we’ve got a funeral coming up, we’ll be talking to the family and be recommending that it’s just the immediate family only, and following Dr. Henry’s recommendation that there can’t be more than 50 people in a space,” Gordon said. “There aren’t that many immediate family members that are more than 50.”

Gordon added that extra precautions are being taken in churches to make sure every surface is sanitized if a ceremony has taken place.

The same advice is given to members of Greater Victoria’s Jewish community, which is also struggling to keep up.

“Everything is altered, absolutely everything,” said Rabbi Lynn Greenhough of the Kolot Mayim Reform Temple. “How do we manage our traditional customs and also preserve the safety of the living?”

ALSO READ: Saanich congregation welcomes first Canadian rabbi in Greater Victoria

The Jewish Community Centre has also shut down, with services happening online.

In a traditional Jewish funeral, 10 Jewish adults are required to make a quorum.

“We’ll probably limit community participation to meet that,” Greenhough said.

At the end of the day, it’s about protecting the living.

“Where I’m from, wakes are a very important community event and it’s very much about bringing food and being together … but those need to be stalled for now,” Henry said. “Celebrations of life can happen later.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Farm life: Musings of summer

Summer is one of my favourite seasons for so many reasons. I… Continue reading

Ktunaxa elder leaves legacy of courage, resilience and mentorship

Herman Alpine helped Ktunaxa move on from Residential School era, was key in revitalization of language

Milestone RCMP Cops For Kids fundraiser ride going virtual

You can join and help RCMP raise funds for families and possibly win 20th anniversary cycling shirt

RDEK lifts state of local emergency in Fairmont

Clean up continues from two debris flow events at the end of May

Cranbrook receives $4M in federal infrastructure funding

Cranbrook is receiving $4.1 million from the federal government through an infrastructure… Continue reading

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

96-year-old woman scales B.C. butte with help of family, friends

‘I did as I was told and I enjoyed every minute of it’

Parallel crises: How COVID-19 exacerbated B.C.’s drug overdose emergency

Part 1: Officials say isolation, toxic drug supply, CERB, contributing to crisis

Canadians with disabilities disproportionately hit by COVID-19 pandemic

More than four out of 10 British Columbians aged 70 and up have various disabilities

Camping offers a great pandemic escape, for less money than you might think

But for many first-timers, knowing what to bring can be a challenge

Turbulence in Canadian opinion on airlines COVID-19 response: poll

Thousands of people have beseeched Transport Minister Marc Garneau to compel airlines to issue refunds,

Police issue warning after baby comes across suspected drugs in Kamloops park

The 11-month-old girl’s mother posted photos on social media showing a small plastic bag containing a purple substance

Most Read