BY JOHN FROEHLING
Coroners from Fulton and five other counties met Wednesday with representatives OSF St. Francis Medical Center and the Illinois Funeral Directors Association to solidify their fatality plan for deaths that potentially may result from Covid-19. They also set guidelines for current and upcoming funeral services.
The coroners and IFDA Board of Directors recommended following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on gatherings, including those directly related to funerals, visitations or graveside services.
That means gatherings of 10 or more people should be canceled or conducted only with nine or fewer people. Viewings will be conducted only on bodies that have been embalmed and by only nine or fewer people at a time. Graveside services should be private and conducted with nine or fewer people as well.
Fulton County Coroner Steve Hines, who also serves as director of Oaks-Hines Funeral Home in Canton, said later Wednesday plans were being made to follow those guidelines yet try to accommodate as many people as possible.
For example, visitations will be conducted in shifts. Nine people will be allowed in a room at, say, 5 p.m. and the next group may go in at 5:30 p.m. After the first group leaves, staff will disinfect the area before the next group comes in.
Staff also will rotate or be changed so they are not exposed to more than nine people and vice versa.
Visitors waiting their turn to enter may not be staged just outside the visitation room, because that would be a gathering, Hines said.
He added plans are for graveside services are to arrange to have the body and casket already at the cemetery, so no pallbearers are needed. Only one clergyperson and one funeral director will be on hand, so up to seven family members may attend.
If additional family members were positioned 50 or 100 feet away, or some other distance from the others, could they observe the ceremony and pray together from afar?
How close in proximity individuals must be to each other to constitute a gathering might not be defined precisely, so it was difficult to say, Hines said. “That probably never has been addressed,” he added.
Hines said with an airborne virus like Covid-19, certain precautions must be taken in preparations for a funeral. A mask is put on both the deceased person and the embalmer or anyone else working with the deceased.
That’s in addition to everyday precautions staff take, Hines said. However, it is not necessary to have a closed casket at services for someone who died from Covid-19, he added.
“Other things are much more harmful,” Hines pointed out.
Other coroners who attended the planning session were from the counties of Peoria, Tazewell, Stark, Warren and Rock Island.
The guidelines established are subject to change per recommendations by the federal government and CDC. Compliance with these directives is to keep families safe, as well as the staff at funeral homes.
Specific questions regarding loved ones should be directed to local funeral home directors.