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Ohio funeral homes advised of protocol

Two months ago, a man tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Seattle, which was the first known case in the country. Since then, President Donald Trump has declared it a national emergency, as the virus has altered schools, airlines, restaurants and other businesses.

As Gov. Mike DeWine announced that Director of the Ohio Department of Health Dr. Amy Acton signed a statewide “stay home” order for Ohioans on Sunday, the pandemic has continued to affect the funeral home business and how people mourn their loved ones.

The Ohio Funeral Directors Association (OFDA) sent out a letter to all of the funeral homes in the state to clear up the proper protocol, which includes over-the-phone arrangements when possible, social distancing and limiting large gatherings.

Funeral Director Jon Rettig Sr., who owns three funeral homes and a crematory in Columbiana, Leetonia and East Palestine, has served on the regulatory board for embalmers and funeral directors for four years. While funerals are exempt from the governor’s mandates, Rettig said they are still focusing on encouraging families to scale back to more private services.

“Right now, the governor has not changed that exemption,” Rettig said. “The profession is well-prepared to handle things on a state perspective. Luckily, we haven’t seen a lot of it in our lifetime, but funeral directors are trained for this sort of thing.”

David Royal, director and owner of Linsley-Royal Funeral Home in East Palestine, said that they have followed guidelines from the OFDA to help families make smart decisions about their services.

“We are trying to limit services to under 50 guests if possible,” Royal said. “I’m encouraging the families to have private, family-only arrangements or viewings. We are also open to spreading the hours out so less people would all be together in a less amount of time.”

Rettig said the Warrick-Kummer-Rettig Funeral Home in Columbiana is working to meet the needs of families, while protecting their workers as well. He said that the families they’ve worked with so far have been understanding and flexible as much as possible.

Many families have chosen to move the service to a later date in order to have larger gatherings.

“We’ve had services that have been scheduled for later when things are over,” Rettig said. “We hope to keep the number of people down right now so it doesn’t become a hazard. But, most people have been taking this very seriously, as they probably should.”

“We had a family come in and decide to do a private service with children and grandchildren,” Royal said. “They will then having a public celebration of life memorial service without the body present later when things calm down.”

To avoid germs while signing the register books, the OFDA is encouraging funeral homes to provide attendees individual memorial note cards with a funeral home pen they can retain or have funeral home staff attend the book and sign for each attendee. Rettig said that some staff is also staying home in response to DeWine’s request.

Jean Pastore, of Kerr-Pastore-Weber Funeral Home in Salineville, said if people want to have a small, private funeral, they will arrange it. She also said memorial services can be planned at a later date. Pastore would like people to communicate about arrangements through email and online, but when people come in to make arrangements, she is limiting the meeting to one or two people.

During private services, funeral homes have emphasized social distancing by spreading out greeting lines and staff by six feet. When possible, arrangement conferences have been made through telephone calls or electronic means. However, Royal said they have still continued to meet in person with families when they don’t have means of telecommunications, limiting the conference to two people.

Royal and Rettig said that their funeral homes have been disinfected thoroughly to do everything they can internally.

“Everyone has been spread out more during the private services, including the seating,” Royal said. “We are also encouraging everyone to use the hand sanitizer before they enter the building and before they leave as well.”

Bill Roberts, of Roberts Funeral Home in Wellsville, said they are going to have private, family-only ceremonies for now. If people want to plan a memorial service for down the road, they will arrange it.

Unfortunately, Roberts said funerals are a place where most people want to be able to hug, kiss and get close to each other, but right now this is just not the way they will be able to do things.

“I’ve been licensed for 43 years,” Roberts said. “I’ve seen a lot of things. A lot of times our funerals are like family reunions… We live in an area where people come in from all over the country.”

Roberts said he believes if people would just do the basic things — wash with soap and water and stay apart from each other — “They’re going to be able to knock it down a lot quicker.”

slendak@mojonews.com

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