How are funerals held during a pandemic?

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 6:55 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The overwhelming majority of COVID patients survive, but it appears more Vermonters are dying during the pandemic beyond those whose death was caused by COVID-19. According to the Vermont Health Department, from March through September of this year the state has seen 180 excess deaths compared to the same months over the previous four years. Olivia Lyons spoke with funeral directors to see how they’re doing in these challenging times.

“Being together means everything," said Chris Palermo, president of the Vermont Funeral Directors Association. who has been working with state officials during the pandemic to determine how to hold funerals. “You’ve done everything for the deceased, it’s time to take care of that family.”

In the beginning, the state said no services. Then, they allowed up to 10 people in attendance. “That was very difficult. How are they going to exclude grandchildren or spouses of some of the children?” said James Clifford, the owner of Clifford Funeral Home in Rutland.

Now, funeral homes and churches can host at 50% capacity, as long as it is under 75 people inside. There is a 150 capacity allowed at outdoor services.

Palermo and Clifford say the biggest issue is it’s often not just Vermonters coming to their services. “We see a lot of cars come in from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and some are very, very strong about having the mask and doing the right thing and others have come in and act like it’s not an issue at all," said Clifford.

Clifford asks everyone to wear a mask. Both men say that families are compliant for the most part.

Depending on WiFi availability some services are streamed live. “We had a widow that was from out of state coming from a hot zone. She wasn’t able to come here for a burial service and so we were live-streaming it. That’s far from ideal, but it still allowed people to be able to be a part of that service remotely," said Palermo.

Many families opt for outdoor services, but with winter coming, some people are waiting for an end to the pandemic. “We’ll be having more spring burials, which is difficult for families to revisit the situation a second time," said Clifford.

Funeral directors across the state are trying to provide a meaningful service in a safe way. Palermo says families need to be understanding and have patience.

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