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

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

Just Posted

Ladysmith's Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 29 responded to the fire. (Gerry Beltgens photo)
Boat catches fire in Ladysmith Harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Chemainus teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Pamela Anderson was given a Ladysmith Heritage Award for the restoration work on the Arcady Auto Court property that she purchased from her grandparents. (Pamela Anderson photo)
PHOTOS: Star-studded Ladysmith Heritage Awards honour local commitments to heritage

Barrie McDonald, Pamela Anderson, John & Luke Marston, and the Ladysmith Maritime Society recognized

Kim McGregor died in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run accident in Chemainus. (Photo submitted)
Victim identified in Valentine’s Day Chemainus hit-and-run

Kim McGregor grew up in Chemainus and had recently returned to be close to his parents

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena before heading onto the ice for practice. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Young Ladysmith skater watches and waits in battle against cancer

Ella Donovan’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

1957 photo shows Six Mile House-sponsored #4 1932 Ford stock car with Frank Morris (from left), Ted Mackenzie, Bill Sim and driver Gerry Sylvester. (Bud Glover/Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame)
Memories race as Western Speedway approaches its finish line

‘It was life to us:’ Vancouver Island racers, crew will never forget what the track gave them

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way inside business in Nanaimo

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres on Friday

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Most Read