PPE Needed For Funeral Directors And The Bodies They Move

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — When health officials released guidelines for funeral services during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, they advised people not to touch the body. However, that is not an option for funeral directors.

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)

“The body has to get moved and we have to touch it. So that’s—that’s the reality,” said Ann Bednarsky, owner of Bednarsky Funeral Home in Binghamton.

Anyone handling the body of a person who died from COVID-19 will need personal protective equipment: at least gloves, a mask, and eye protection.

“And you can’t get anymore.” Bednarsky added, “I have some. Most funeral homes have some, but nobody was thinking that you would ever need as much as we need right now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insists there is a low risk of transmission if funeral directors wear PPE, but they will also need to put a mask on the decedent too.

“Whenever you move the deceased, or if they’re in your preparation room to be embalmed and you need to remove clothing, you need to kind of manipulate the body. In those situations, air can come out of the lungs and out of the mouth,” explained Jack Mitchell, Treasurer for the National Funeral Directors Association. NFDA advocates on behalf of funeral professionals.

PPE is something for which funeral directors would usually put a line in their budgets to buy from a private supplier, but those shelves are bare.

The Federal Department of Health and Human Services granted a request that funeral professionals be given priority for distribution of PPE from government agencies.

“Now, the process kind of varies from state to state, but as we apply for personal protective equipment from whatever county agency or state agency, we are to be recognized as a priority group,” Mitchell said.

The NFDA is also pushing for funeral directors to be considered a priority group to be vaccinated when that becomes an option. That request has not yet been answered, and the White House predicts a vaccine will not be available for at least a year.