As COVID-19 Spreads, Funeral Homes Live Stream Services

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — COVID-19 has changed our lives, but now it’s affecting our relationship with death.

More specifically, how families are able to grieve.

A funeral director and a Wycoff Heights Medical Center, employee transport a body into a hearse, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

New guidelines from the state and federal government are limiting the types of services funeral homes can offer and some are offering live streams.

As people pass due to complications with COVID-19, those who were closest to them before their death will not be able to attend the funeral because they may be infected without knowing and risk spreading the virus.

“The broadcast tribute would be an option for people to have some means of participation in witnessing of it, coupled with something a little public later in the year when things settle down,” said Kurt Eschbach, funeral director at Hopler and Eschbach Funeral Home in Binghamton. They have not yet used the video stream service option yet.

“We haven’t had to utilize these services, but we know we will be,” said Eschbach

Binghamton is in Broome county, which as of Thursday morning had 145 people in mandatory quarantine.

“In times of loss, people naturally, instinctively, gather to comfort each other and share the pain of loss and the reality of loss,” Eschbach said. “And what we’re doing now is upending a millennia old tradition of people coming together to comfort each other.”

With social distancing and the number of quarantines rising, Eschbach said we’re isolated in our day-to-day, but now in the midst of our grief, we will be even more isolated.

The death rate could reach a hundred thousand or more in the U.S. before the spread of COVID-19 reaches its peak.

Mike Lanotte, Executive Director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, saw a surge in deaths coming as the number of people with underlying conditions hospitalized in New York start to rise.

“Just this past weekend, Saturday and Sunday, we saw 475 people die from the coronavirus,” Lanotte said. He added that, when you break down the normal annual average of deaths in the state, there are about 425 each month.

“So, in just two days we eclipsed our normal monthly average, and that does not include any of the people who are dying of other causes,” Lanotte said. “Which we know are still happening.”

The Funeral Directors Association works as an advocate for the state’s funeral directors, including helping them stay in compliance with the new guidelines.