Coronavirus: Funeral workers adjust during pandemic to not only comfort grieving families, but also handle remains of victims safely

The funeral industry is one group that you may not think of as being on the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic. But they are the ones charged with handling the remains of anyone who dies from COVID-19.

The National Funeral Directors Association is pushing the Trump administration and lawmakers to categorize them as "essential critical infrastructure workers."

The association says funeral home workers are at a “high risk of exposure" to the virus and should be at the top of the list for tests and a potential vaccine. They also need to have personal protective equipment and exemptions from quarantine rules.

There are more than 200,000 funeral workers in the U.S., the association said in a letter to the White House.

Not only do the workers face challenges when preparing the remains of someone who has died, but those who are grieving also have had to change how they pay their respects.

Because of social distancing and quarantines, the traditional funeral are not allowed to happen as expected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told funeral homes that services can be done, but they should be limited. If possible the service should be done online.

The CDC says any event that has more than 50 people should be postponed or canceled until May 10. The White House said that there shouldn't be any gatherings of 10 people or more until March 31 to help flatten the curve. Funerals come under those rules, the National Funeral Directors Association said.

While some families understand why they can’t have an in-person service, it doesn’t help the emotional pain. There are also some technological challenges with livestreaming a funeral.

"It was sad that my grandmother, a woman known for her love of large gatherings, parties and get-togethers, would have her final service be in front of only 10 of her loved ones. It was sad that even with today's technology it was so difficult to hear her eulogy, and it was sad knowing we couldn't share those final moments together as a family," Garett Galindo told CNN.

The CDC says there is no known risk of transferring the virus from a person who died from COVID-19 to someone attending their funeral. But the agency is still learning how the virus is transmitted, so they suggest that mourners do not touch the remains.

As for funeral directors, they're being told to follow normal infection prevention procedures. A person who died from coronavirus can be buried or cremated but states and local governments may have additional rules for someone who died from some infectious diseases, the CDC said.

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