Missouri’s funeral homes are in desperate need of supplies to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Don Otto with the Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association tells Missourinet protective gear purchased through vendors is long gone and funeral homes are not part of the emergency supply chain.
Ironically, they have been deemed by the federal government to be essential personnel. And, in order to safely and properly handle a body potentially exposed to COVID-19, Otto says the feds want personal protective equipment used. He says some Missouri morgues, hospitals and nursing homes are even requiring funeral directors to wear protective equipment while in their building.
“If you don’t have the equipment to do that, then you’re going to start running into problems where funeral homes will, at some point, have to decide ‘Am I able to legally and safely pick up and handle this deceased for the family,’” he says.
The types of supplies funeral directors are supposed to be using include N95 respirator masks or KN95 masks, a double layer of nitrile gloves, disposable gowns or ones capable of being completely sanitized between uses and there are some body bag precautions.
“Those are not too much different than the universal precautions that a funeral director uses on a regular basis,” says Otto. “What is unusual now, however, is in the past, the funeral director might not have worried about wearing gloves and a mask as they walk in the front door of somebody’s house and say hello to the family. They would worry about that when they go to the bedroom to remove the loved ones who has passed away. Now you have to worry about that all the time. You have to worry about wearing the PPE in situations where you’re not necessarily dealing with the deceased body but with the family, or the hospital staff or anyone else. So that has created an increased demand for that material.”
He goes on to say funeral homes are used to dealing with deceased people who could have a contagious disease.
“A person may have died in a car accident but you don’t know if they have hepatitis, or tuberculosis or measles. So the standard procedures are supposed to be used in every case,” he says.
According to Otto, Missouri’s funeral homes have been feeling the pinch when it comes to the type of services they can offer families. COVID-19 has led to gathering limits in communities, including at traditional funerals.
“The funeral industry, like many other industries and professions, have been under extreme emotional, legal and economic pressure,” says Otto. “When you say thank you to that hospital worker, when you say thank you to that EMT, wave at the truck driver who’s delivering your goods, give a shout out to your local funeral director too – who’s the last responder, who’s been there on the job this whole time and will continue to do so. They’ve never closed.”
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