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Ask Drake: Funeral homes adjusting amid the pandemic

A few days ago, the local TV station came by to interview me for their news hour. I also heard from several radio station news departments and a number of newspapers/online news sites.
Drake Smith
Drake Smith

A few days ago, the local TV station came by to interview me for their news hour.

I also heard from several radio station news departments and a number of newspapers/online news sites. They all wanted to know two things: How has the COVID-19 virus affected the families you serve? How has the virus affected the way your funeral home operates?

In addition to the media, health-care providers across North America are asking funeral homes and crematoriums about their ability to serve in the event of mass casualties. You’ve probably seen the refrigerated trucks on TV parked outside hospital morgues.

Health-care providers want to know how many deceased people the community’s funeral homes can properly hold. They also want to know how many cremations can be performed per day if the worst case scenario unfolds.

The media ask their two questions out of curiosity and to put together a helpful story for their readers or viewers. Health-care providers ask funeral homes about their capacity to care for deceased people, in an effort to be ready in the event of a worst-case scenario.

So, how many people can Drake care for at our funeral home at one time? As of late April or early May we anticipate being able to care for 28 people at a given time. This is because we are opening a new crematorium in Kamloops. It’s located on the east side of Kamloops, out by the BC Wildlife Park. Our new crematorium will allow us to perform up to six cremations per day. I sincerely hope this pandemic will not take a toll on our community. Whenever we are called upon, however, we will be there to help.

Now, back to the media’s questions.

First, it’s apparent to me that most families are holding off on services for their loved one until the pandemic ends. Delaying Murray’s service can take a toll on people, but most people want to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Also, the vast majority of people no longer have viewings or formal funerals as most people choose cremation and have a gathering of family and a few friends. This is not because of the pandemic; rather, it reflects changing patterns of consumer behaviour. Even these informal gatherings are being put on hold, however, until the pandemic passes.

When people visit our funeral home, it is clear everyone is attempting to practice physical distancing — most people even bring their own pen.

As far as how the novel coronavirus is affecting the way we operate our funeral homes, it appears that all funeral homes in the area have clearly made adjustments. Each home has a sign on the door, advising visitors of the precautions being taken. Most are trying hard to protect staff and visitors from exposure.

As far as the risks we take in caring for Murray, this hasn’t really changed a lot as most funeral directors and embalmers have been well trained to use personal protective equipment and to exercise caution. We have been trained to assume everyone we care for may put an embalmer at risk. We are, however, using extra precautions. This includes always wearing gloves, masks and face shields.

We’re living through a pandemic. The response around the world is unlike that of any other time. Complete economies have nearly closed. Funeral homes, however, carry on, ready to serve anyone in need. Hats off to the media for spreading the word about the realities facing funeral homes. And hats off to health-care providers in many communities throughout North America. They are trying very hard to prepare for the worst case scenario.

Fortunately, it looks like we may not face the widespread harm we initially feared.

Stay well, all.

Drake Smith is with Drake Cremation and Funeral Services in Kamloops.