Funeral services limited under restrictions to stop COVID-19 spreading

Families and friends grieving the loss of a loved one may have to take a different look at memorial services with state mandates of social distancing that restricts large groups of people.

The mandate by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear outlined in his March 17 address states that funerals in Kentucky are to involve "closest family" only and private burials.

That restriction changes many of the traditional funeral services across the state and leaves a definite impact on families and funeral home policies.

Doug Bowling, owner of Bowling Funeral Home and Laurel County Coroner, said the mandates have had a drastic impact on how memorial services can be conducted during the restrictions.

"We will follow the guidelines given to us from the Governor and the Kentucky Funeral Directors Association for funeral services," Bowling said. "Those say that visitation is limited to immediate family only and that's what concerns me - we don't know who is closest family. It's a bad situation to be in. We don't know how long this will go on."

"We just had two huge funerals right before this," he said. "Now they're telling us to only have immediate family and have private burials. That just doesn't give people the closure they need sometimes."

With most funerals, it is customary for those attending the service to exit the building by starting with the back rows of the sanctuary, pass by the casket and go outside. Then the family is permitted a few minutes to say their final goodbyes to their loved one.

But the mandate by the Kentucky Funeral Directors Association, sent to all Kentucky funeral homes, states that the restrictions placed by Gov. Beshear restricts funerals to closest family only. That notice quotes the following policies:

The requirement for Kentucky Funeral Homes as set for by Kentucky Gov. Beshear is as follows:

All funerals in Kentucky are limited to the “Closest of Family” with “Private Burials”

Gov. Beshear said the overriding goal of the order is to minimize in-person interaction, which is the primary means of transmission of COVID-19. The immediate implementation of the order is necessary as patrons of public-facing businesses gather in large numbers, in close proximity to each other and in enclosed spaces, endangering the health of customers and staff.

“For those out there trying to find an exception, if you’re not truly engaging in social distancing, if you are not taking those steps, it will force further action,” Gov. Beshear said. “Not that we want to take it, but we have to protect everybody. It’s all of our duties. Look for ways to be a part of the solution as opposed to being an exception to what we’re putting out there.”

FDAK fully expects that if we don’t adhere to the stated requirements, then the Governor will take further action and possibly close Kentucky funeral homes to visitations and funerals."

House-Rawlings Funeral Home has not had any services scheduled over the past several days, but staff there are also concerned about the impact of the restricted services.

Perry House with London Funeral Home also addressed concerns to the limited visitation and services, but said he will comply with the mandate and will cooperate with families throughout the restriction period.

"Funeral service has been, and always will be, part of he public health response in our community. We have always responded to the needs of our families and are continuing to do so with the emergence of the coronavirus," House said. "We rely on the families to inform us of who their relatives are."

London Funeral Home is complying with the restrictions on funeral services and is adding additional sanitation measures for those who do utilize their facility.

"Although cleaning our funeral homes is something we do on a daily basis, with the current concerns facing us, we have increased this even more whenever possible," he said. "We have found the families to be very understanding especially considering the time we're in. Just like us, families find value in the opportunity to share what they are going through knowing a death not only affects them but their friends and neighbors in the community as well. Families certainly prefer to have their service open to the public, but they realize this is a different time and have been considerate and understanding of any mandates set by the state."

House and co-owner Susan Whitis both agree that in light of the situation with the spread of COVID-19, families do still have the option of having a graveside service and holding a memorial service once the public is permitted to participate in those events.

Brian House with Laurel Funeral Home said this has certainly affected their policies with the mandate of only 10 people. That measure was re-enforced by a notice sent to all funeral directors across the state on Friday morning.

"We just got an update from the Kentucky Funeral Directors Association that we are limited to 10 people and if we don't follow this, the Governor could issue an executive order to fully restrict funerals," he said. "That hurts us because we don't want to turn anyone away but we have to follow the guidelines."

That correspondence states that the Governor's office had contacted the KFDA with concerns that not all funeral homes across the state were complying to the 10 person limit on funerals. The KFDA encouraged its members to adhere to the restrictions - or that stiffer measures would inevitably be taken.

House said he had dealt with a family on Thursday who was not happy with the restrictions but were understanding of the situation.

"This has put the funeral home business in a whole new ballgame," he said. "There are states that have passed restrictions to only graveside services only - with only one person at that. I hope we don't get to that point here - I hope people understand and that funeral directors will comply with the guidelines. I truly believe that if we all follow the rules and do as the CDC and the Governor ask us, this will get better in a few weeks."

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