Albany, Ga.– Public health officials, along with the Dougherty County coroner, are strongly urging funeral homes to immediately adhere to social distancing protocol for funerals, graveside services, and memorials to help control the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Charles Ruis, district health director for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Southwest Health District 8-2, said that because there is currently not an effective cure for the disease, and because it’s transferred from person to person through respiratory droplets, particularly through sneezing, coughing, and touching with contaminated hands, it’s essential that everyone practice social distancing as much as possible by limiting the crowds at public and private gatherings.
“If we participate in a gathering, we still want to do everything we can to keep the odds in our favor like avoiding close contact, still trying to keep six feet between people, washing hands frequently,” he says, adding that anyone coughing or sneezing should not attend, even though they are also grieving.
When it comes to graveside services, in general, if there’s not a breeze blowing, being outdoors could be safer because exhaled air into the sunlight can help to deactivate the virus, so being outdoors could be safer than being indoors, he said.
“At public health, we hope that families who have a loss can mourn in creative ways that will result in less transmission of the virus,” Dr. Ruis added.
Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler said there are a number of precautions funeral homes can take to stop the spread of COVID-19, including graveside burial for family members only, with a memorial service held at a later date.
“Also, if they’re going to have multiple services, funeral homes need to disinfect the car in between use for each family,” says Fowler, who also suggests families arrange for a live screening of services for loved ones who cannot travel to the site, those who are sick and can’t attend, and just to keep the gathering number low in general.
Fowler urges funeral homes to:
• have someone at the door with hand gel or sanitized wipes for hands during visitation
• frequently clean door handles and other points of contact
• discourage anyone who is sick from attending the service
Get updated COVID-19 information at dph.georgia.gov and cdc.gov.