Funeral Industry Faces Pressure, Crowding With Deaths From Pandemic

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By Emily Drooby

The week of April 5 is on track to be the saddest week of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The U.S. had its highest number of COVID-19 deaths on April 8, with almost 800 people succumbing to the virus just in New York City. 

It’s putting a serious strain on the funeral industry. 

“The sheer volume is something that’s never before been seen,” explained Michael Lanotte, executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

According to Lanotte, every year around 155,000 die in the state – 425 per day. Now they’re seeing 700-800 coronavirus deaths per day. The system is overwhelmed.

“Our average funeral home does about 100 cases, or helps 100 families a year, some of them have helped that amount in the last week,” said Lanotte.

It’s a very somber chain reaction. Because of the high volume, cemeteries and crematoriums are backed up. Funeral homes have nowhere to bring their deceased, meaning they can’t take new bodies from the morgue. 

There’s just not enough time to fix it. 

“It’s a process that you want to do with dignity and respect, it just takes time,” explained Lanotte.  “Time is against…just there’s only 24 hours in a day.”

New York City funeral home directors are working around the clock to keep up. This issue is complicated more by an ongoing trend. 

“The shortage on our end, of funeral homes and funeral directors, has been ongoing but now it’s really coming to light, where we don’t have enough boots on the ground to handle what we can do,” said Richard Sullivan, the association’s director. 

Sullivan, who owns a funeral, says to address the shortage they’re trying to bring in help: both from less hard-hit areas in New York and from out of state.  

At the same time, funeral directors are risking their own health because there’s not enough personal protective equipment.

John Heyer of Heyer and Scotto Funeral Home says another challenge they face is helping family grieve while adhering to social distancing rules. 

“It’s important for them to understand that our safety has to be first for the living, that’s our primary concern right now,” he said. “God willing, we will get past this and we will be able to mourn properly, because the mourning process is very important also for the living.”

Some families are cremating their loved ones and planning services for later. Others are holding small services, and some are streaming services for those who can’t be there. 

It’s just one more way in which coronavirus is forcing change in the world.