Congestion of Funeral Homes in New York Amidst COVID-19
Written By: S.P.
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
In these grim and unique times amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic, there has been a surge in the amount of dead bodies that are being transported to local funeral homes, morgues and hospitals.
Hospitals and funeral services all around the world are dealing with this morbid issue as best as they can. However, some places are being hit harder than others. New York is one of these unfortunate locations. As of April 29th 2020, New York city alone has witnessed nearly 13,000 deaths. Funeral homes, crematoriums and other similar services are seeing drastic increases in the number of bodies that need to be dealt with. One funeral home in Manhattan has stated that their usual one-to-two body pick up calls per day has gone up to eight or nine per day. That’s an increase of 900%!
Funeral homes and death industries are simply not equipped for this sudden and unexpected surge. New and never before seen methods and restrictions are being implemented in order to prevent contagion. For example, virtual funerals are now being offered and are strongly encouraged. Services are being held over skype and other video chat platforms in order to limit the spread of the disease and to enforce social distancing measures. Even when a wake is allowed to be held during this pandemic, the majority of funeral homes are limiting the amount of bereaved visitors allowed in the exposition room to ten or fewer at one time. Not to mention that bodies who that test positive for the coronavirus not allowed to be exposed to the public. A closed casket viewing with a limited amount of visitors is the closest thing that a family can hope for. This particular aspect is quite harsh for bereaved loved ones. An open casket viewing, for many, is an extremely important step in the ongoing process of grief. Removing this key element of acceptance and closure may have detrimental effects on the mental health of the bereaved.
“…their usual one-to-two body pick up calls per day
has gone up to eight or nine per day. That’s an increase of 900%”
It may logically make sense to correlate the increase in funerals to an increase in sales. More deaths essentially equal more sales, right? Not exactly. This hypothesis is far from the reality of the situation. The new measures that have been applied to these virtual funerals and closed casket viewings rule out so many of the traditional options such as embalming, open casket viewing, limousines, chapel services and most of the other forms of services that the funeral homes have to offer. By eliminating these options and rituals, the funeral business is losing out on the services in which most of their profit comes from. Cremations are now being strongly advised, especially for covid cases. When you think of it, funeral home and death service workers are working overtime while not being able to offer 90% of their usual services!
Another factor that is quite intimidating for those whose professions revolve around direct contact with an infected body, is the unknown contagion factors that they are being exposed to. Since the virus is so recent, not enough data has been gathered in order for us to know just how much danger embalmers and coroners are putting themselves in. Of course, even before this outbreak, it is the norm for these workers to be clad in PPE (personal protective equipment). Nonetheless, it is still a scary thought to think that if an accident were to occur, the consequences could be fatal for some.
What is being done now?
In general, the United States and Canada, have always had an efficient and effective systems in place for various funeral rites and disposition procedures. These systems are now simply not enough to keep up with the abundance of bodies that are literally piling up. New and impromptu methods of storage are having to be implemented as quickly as possible. Refrigeration trucks are being used to store bodies of the deceased while the refrigerated rooms in hospitals, morgues and funeral homes are full to capacity. The overload of corpses has become so severe in New York that wooden shelves are being hastily installed in these refrigerated rooms in order to create new spaces for a few more bodies. Bodies are being crammed together in storage rooms, some of which do not even have proper temperature control. In addition, parks across New York City, including Central Park are being used as a temporary burial grounds given the shortage of space for the deceased.
The hospital staff is becoming so overworked that sometimes after a death in the intensive care unit (ICU) occurs, the deceased will have remained on their deathbed for 4-5 hours before being moved to the refrigerated room. Imagine being the poor soul in your own ICU situation having to live with the fact that your recently deceased neighbor / roommate may have to lay next to you for the next 5 hours.
Despite having to deal with this pandemic in unique and novel ways, the essential workers are doing their best to help out as best as they can. It is important to remember to stay grateful and be kind to these workers, because we wouldn’t be able to get through this without them.
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