The spread of COVID-19 (popularly called coronavirus) has created alarm and fear across the world. We want to keep people informed and stem the spread of misinformation in the U.S.. This FAQ about funeral care will be a living document, updated with answers and information from official, trusted sources.
Q: Are bodies that die from Covid-19 infectious and dangerous postmortem?
Experts do not believe that the virus can be transmitted posthumously.
Remember that the COVID-19 virus is spread “primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This type of spread is not a concern after death.”
There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room with the body of someone who died of COVID-19.
Q: What about touching, shrouding, or washing a body that has died from Covid-19?
For many cultures and religions, direct care for the dead is vital.
Even though we believe bodies from COVID-19 are safe, it is “a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads.”
Because of this uncertainty, for the time being the CDC recommends that families, “work with their community cultural and religious leaders and funeral home staff on how to reduce their exposure as much as possible. At a minimum, people conducting these activities should wear disposable gloves.”
Sources: Center for Disease Control
Here are Perspectives on Infection Control in the Taharah Room from Kavod v’Nichum and Gamliel Institute.
Q: Am I at risk if I attend a funeral or visitation for someone who died of COVID-19?
Even though there is no known risk from the body, remember that close family members or friends of the deceased may be infected (even if they have no obvious symptoms).
The danger of attending funerals is the exact same danger currently found at coffee shops, bars, sporting events, etc. The danger is living humans in close proximity to one another.
The CDC originally said (March 16th) that funerals with 50 people or less may still take place, but further recommendations say to limit funeral gatherings to no more than 10 people.
Families should limit in-person attendees to immediate family and practice social distancing and hand sanitizing until further notice.
Q: Is a Covid-19 body dangerous to embalmers or autopsy technicians?
Embalming is not necessary and will not make a COVID-19 body safer. However, this service has been deemed safe for the embalmer to perform and continues to be available if a family wishes it.
Embalmers need to make sure they follow Standard Precautions, wear Personal Protective Equipment and respiratory protection. The same goes for pathologists and autopsy technicians.
Q: Is it dangerous to cremate or bury a Covid-19 body?
No. Both methods are safe and in most countries it remains the family’s choice.
In some countries, such as Italy, the lack of funeral workers and available crematories has led to a backup of bodies needing cremation or burial.
If you need to wait to have a funeral service or disposition (cremation or burial), longer term refrigeration of the body or even embalming are potential options.
Sources: New York Times
Q: How are funeral homes handling decedents who died of COVID-19 and how are they preparing?
The CDC advises funeral home workers to “follow their routine infection prevention and control precautions when handling a decedent who died from COVID-19.” Bodies that need to be transported should follow Standard Precautions.
From conversations with our colleagues, we know that some funeral homes are adapting by being open longer hours, offering free or low-cost livestreaming of funeral services, holding multiple small capacity funeral services for individuals, and also suggesting that families hold services at a later date when the risk of COVID-19 has lessened.
Funerals have now been prohibited in the state of Washington. UPDATE: On March 28th the state of Washington lifted the ban on funerals and have now limited attendees to immediate family only. Those present must adhere to the six feet social distancing rule. Source: Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Proclamation 20-25.
Sources: Center for Disease Control
Q: Can I still donate my organs if I die while infected with COVID-19?
According to the American Society of Transplantation:
We do not recommend using organs from deceased donors at this time who: – Have active COVID-19infection – Test positive for COVID-19 as part of the OPO evaluation
Q: Is it still possible to have a green/natural burial?
Yes. Both natural burial and traditional burial are permitted.
Source: Green Burial Council
Q: How are bodies in the EU being handled?
You can read through the European COVID-19 dead body handling report here.