Funeral homes adjust to coronavirus measures
Families postpone, keep services private
WARREN — Funeral homes are grappling with how to handle services as recommendations come down from the governor to limit gatherings to fewer and fewer people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended gatherings be limited to 50 people or fewer. President Donald Trump suggested gatherings be fewer than 10 people to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Orders from Gov. Mike DeWine also have placed limits on the number of people who can gather, shut bars and restaurants to dine-in traffic, and closed some other recreational facilities.
Funerals and weddings, however, were not impacted directly by the order.
The Warren City Health Department’s vital statistics division closed its doors to the public Thursday, meaning generally people no longer can get certified death certificates needed for insurance and property purposes.
The health department still is servicing funeral homes, according to Linda Capers, vital statistics registrar. She said funeral home personnel cannot walk in the door, but still can get burial and cremation permits, and access and file records electronically.
Justin Kaszowski, funeral director at Staton-Borowski Funeral Home, said the funeral home has the ability to issue cremation and burial certificates with a death certificate from a doctor, and he has reached out to other Warren funeral homes that may need help getting the permits.
Kaszowski said the funeral home has not changed any policies but is recommending families choose private or smaller services.
“I think what we’re seeing is the public is really doing things themselves and not coming out. They’ll send a card instead,” Kaszowski said.
He said Staton-Borowski held two funerals March 14 — one was private and the other seemed “quiet” with only about a dozen people in attendance.
Kim C. Romanchuk, owner of Shriver-Allison-Courtley-Weller-King Funeral Home in Youngstown, said she had one family cancel indoor services and move to a strictly graveside service because of concerns about the virus.
She said she saw a lot of elbow bumping at the funeral. Handshaking has been discouraged by the CDC and other health authorities.
“When you’re at a funeral, the first thing you want to do is either hug the grieving person or shake their hands. I saw people stop — they caught themselves right before it happened,” Romanchuk said.
She said she would be reluctant to schedule funerals indoors.
Other funeral homes are seeing more families choose private services or postpone larger gatherings.
John Retting Sr., funeral director at Warrick-Kummer-Retting Funeral Home in Columbiana, said he has had one family reschedule services because of virus concerns.
Like many other funeral homes, Retting said Warrick-Kummer-Retting is handling families’ needs on a case-by-case basis.
“We try to give families good information so that they can make a determination as to what sort of services that they have, whether it be a traditional funeral service or private funeral services or something down the road,” Retting said.
Several service listings in the Tribune Chronicle were canceled or postponed if they were planned in late March or early April.
Mark L. Hall, co-owner and funeral director at Carl W. Hall Funeral Home in Warren, said the National Funeral Director’s Association put out guidelines for handling deceased persons who may have had COVID-19.
The association also advised how to speak with families and make needed adjustments to services.
“It seems like every other day here we’re getting new information. We’re trying to keep abreast of it, and we’re making our own policies,” he said.
He said Carl W. Hall is trying to be “flexible” while also acknowledging advice of health and government officials — he said there may be “some areas where we have to draw the line” for the greater good of the area.
“I think everybody is going to be understanding given what the situation is,” Hall said. “Be prepared for adjustments across all of this.”
During a Tuesday news conference, DeWine recommended families choose to have private funeral services. “I can tell you, we were contacted by a friend of mine who had somebody in the family who died. They were talking about how do we deal with this. They came to the conclusion that they would have their own service, but they would postpone the public service until later,” DeWine said.
He said that this is “certrainly difficult for families” but suggested all Ohioans take the same approach.
Kaszowski said Staton-Borowski will be putting out extra pens and sanitizing them as guests sign registry books. He has heard of other funeral homes putting up signs to discourage hand-shaking and hugging.
Kaszowski said he wonders what will happen if DeWine orders a shutdown of “nonessential” businesses, as has begun to happen in some other states.
“Really, where do funeral homes fall into that?” Kaszowski said. “If people die, we have to work.”
He said stringent nursing home practices have meant having temperatures taken and wearing masks to do transfers.
Kaszowski said as information changes, it’s good to call funeral directors with questions.
“Trust your funeral director. We’re more than happy to answer any questions you have.”