Here’s how the CDC ranks the risks to post-mortem workers.
- Low Risk – Folks who do administrative work in non-public areas of funeral homes or morgues. As long as they don’t handle bodies and don’t have a great deal of contact with those who do, the risk is low.
- Medium Risk – People who don’t have contact with bodies but do interact with the public and other workers are at medium risk.
- High Risk – Workers involved in embalming, burial, or cremation preparation, on bodies of people who have COVID or handling bodies in areas where there’s a lot of community spread of the virus are at high risk.
- Very High Risk – Workers involved in autopsies on or collecting or handling specimens from people who had COVID puts workers at very high risk.
Universal Precautions In Place
This puts most workers in funeral homes in the “high-risk” category. I spoke with Dawn Scott, Vice President of Ralph F. Scott Funeral Home, about the precautions in place to keep employees safe in her workplace.
She said the funeral home treats all of the deceased with Universal Precaution. “Sometimes people pass and don’t even know they are carrying a particular illness/disease.” COVID is carried primarily in respiratory droplets. The greatest risk to workers is when transporting an unembalmed body. “We have been instructed to spray the facial orifices with an anti-viral solution if at all possible. We wouldn’t do that if a family member was present. But definitely cover the face with a mask or washcloth/towel with the solution on it. That gives the cloth some weight also, so it will not fall off.”
Scott said the anti-viral solution is applied again when they arrive at the funeral home to begin the process of embalming.
The funeral home also takes plenty of precautions to ensure the safety of the grieving family and friends. All employees of the funeral home wear masks and there is plenty of hand sanitizer available. “We took out a lot of the chairs and moved them farther apart,” Scott said they clean often. “I know have an industrial-sized sprayer that every chair and every surface is cleaned.”
A staff member signs people into the guest book, so there’s no need to handle pens. Plus some families have opted for Facebook live streams of services to allow virtual attendance.