Practical Guidance for Funeral Directors
This page will be updated as new information becomes available.
We have tried to compile information from NFDA as well as government resources into one place. Below are several links which will take you to specific information that may be useful to you as a funeral director:
According to the CDC, bodies of those who die of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 can safely be transported and embalmed. The new guidance for funeral home staff emphasizes. Information in bold is our opinion, not that of the US Government or NFDA:
- Transporting bodies in a body bag and disinfecting the bag with a product that contains EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims. AFSEP suggests carrying a bottle of Dis-Spray or similar droplet disinfectant in your removal vehicle. If the remains are not pouched upon your arrival (i.e., Nursing Facility or Residential death) we suggest the droplet disinfectant be used to disinfect the nasal and oral cavities of the remains before moving the remains to the removal stretcher. We would additionally advise to immediately cover the face with a sheet, or place a surgical mask on the remains for transport. Lastly, we advise to place all remains into a pouch prior to removal. If the remains are in a pouch (i.e., Hospital death), we suggest using droplet disinfectant to disinfect the outside of the pouch containing the remains and placement of the remains (and pouch) into a new, clean pouch provided by the funeral director.
- The guidance offers PPE recommendations for transfers and embalming, depending on the circumstances funeral home personnel expect to encounter. It is always better to don more PPE and be safe than sorry. All PPE should be doffed (taken off) and disposed of properly. AFSEP recommends double gloving using nitrile gloves, use of an N95 face mask along with a disposable face shield, full body length protective clothing as well as shoe and hair covers for embalming of remains suspected or known to have had COVID-19.
- Additional guidance on PPE can be found here.
- Disinfecting contaminated surfaces using products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims is of utmost importance. AFSEP suggests disposing of all sponges used during the embalming procedure after one use only as well as sponges used in terminal disinfection of the preparation room. A commercial grade disinfectant (such as Virex) should be used to disinfect all surfaces in the preparation room following the embalming procedure. Following a complete mopping of the area, we recommend using a spray nozzle to coat the area with a disinfecting spray and allowing the area to air dry.
The guidance also notes that if “washing the body or shrouding are important religious or cultural practices, families are encouraged to 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. If splashing of fluids is expected, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required (such as disposable gown, face shield or goggles and facemask).”
The CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) – phone: 770-488-7100 – is available for urgent consultation should you need additional guidance regarding a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
Cremation or Burial
At this time, the CDC states that decedents with COVID-19 may be buried or cremated according to the family’s preferences. However, you should “check for any additional state and local requirements that may dictate the handling and disposition of the remains of individuals who have died of certain infectious diseases.”
Please see the information provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration for information about interment in veterans cemeteries.
Visitations and Funerals
At this time, CDC guidance states, “There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19.” However, the CDC also notes, “People should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19.”
As with any gathering or event, you should check with local health officials to determine whether there are any prohibitions on holding public events, such as a visitation or funeral.
As an extra layer of precaution for you, your staff and those you serve, you may want to consider other measures such as:
- Remind families about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as by staying home if you are sick, washing your hands, and covering coughs and sneezes. The CDC has great informational flyers, such as “How to Stop The Spread of Germs,” you can post in your funeral home or hand out to families.
- Keep soap dispensers filled in public (and employee) restrooms.
- The CDC has several informational flyers on handwashing you can post in public and staff restrooms.
- Offer alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to guests (and employees).
- Have extra tissues on hand.
- If, for some reason, an individual is unable to attend a service, discuss options with the family:
- Can the service be webcast using either a webcasting service or Facebook Live?
- Can the service be postponed?
- Can the family hold a memorial gathering – either in addition to or in lieu of a funeral service – at a later date?
As a business open to the public, it’s important that you and your staff be vigilant about cleaning, especially after services or arrangement conferences. The CDC offers guidance for businesses – including recommendations on cleaning products – on cleaning facilities open to the public.
Funeral Home Owners
As a funeral home owner, it is your responsibility to protect the health and safety of your staff. We urge you to carefully review this funeral home-specific guidance as well as:
- CDC Resources for Businesses and Employers.
- Information from OSHA about employer obligations during the COVID-19 situation: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and OSHA’s COVID-19 Information Page.
- An FAQ on COVID-19 prepared by SESCO Management Consultants, NFDA’s endorsed human resources consultants.
- The Department of Labor’s information regarding COVID-19-related issues.
We encourage you to prepare a plan of action for your business and then meet with all full- and part-time staff – from funeral directors to administrative assistants to maintenance staff – to ensure everyone is aware of the role they can plan in keeping themselves, their co-workers and client families safe. As new information comes up, share it with all staff.
In addition to discussing your plan of action with staff, also be in communication with other third-parties you may work with such as florists, caterers, removal services, etc.
Additional Guidance from CDC
Focusing on collecting specimens and conducting autopsies for PUI, the CDC notes, “The guidance can be utilized by medical examiners, coroners, pathologists, [and] other workers involved in postmortem care.” (PUI refers to persons under investigation for COVID-19.)
Any funeral home staff coming in contact with a decedent with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 will want to pay particular attention to the section titled “Autopsy Procedures,” which would most closely apply to embalming. This section includes guidance on safe work practices, engineering controls and PPE usage.
Funeral directors will also want to review the section “Cleaning and Waste Disposal Recommendations” for guidance on how to properly clean and disinfect their embalming room and instruments.
OSHA Alert and Guidance
Employers and workers should follow these general practices to help prevent exposure to coronavirus:
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and running water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to coronavirus should follow these practices:
- Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed.
- Evaluate the risk of exposure.
- Select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to control the spread of the virus; social distancing; and appropriate personal protective equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies.