COVID-19 death caution

COVID-19 death caution

Staff reporter

Sunday, October 18, 2020

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — President of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors Calvin Lyn is calling on the Government to swiftly pass long-awaited regulations to govern funeral homes.

Lyn said the need to pass the Public Health Funeral Establishment and Mortuary Operations Regulation had grown even more urgent because of mounting concerns that untrained people are handling the remains of COVID-19 victims.

Lyn said he recently received a report of a removal team from a funeral home not adhering to guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in handling remains.

“I am assuming that person [funeral home administrator] could be one of the operators who are not properly trained to adhere to the rules established by the Ministry of Health,” Lyn told the Jamaica Observer.

He said the association has been lobbying hard for the new regulations.

“Our association has been making representation to the Ministry of Health to bring in these guidelines to make it law. We were told prior to the election that the Bill would be taken to Parliament soon. How soon is soon?” he asked.

Efforts on Thursday and Friday to contact Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for a comment were unsuccessful as calls and messages to his mobile phone went unanswered.

Last year, Tufton was reported as saying that the regulations would have soon been enacted to officially establish how funeral homes in Jamaica should operate.

“We have to have order in the industry. It's very important to the normal functioning of our society, and we're going to have to put those in place,” Tufton had said.

“We will have to make it happen on the early side of this financial year, not on the late side, and I have made that very clear to the team. So stay tuned for that,” the minister had said.

Lyn is hopeful that the regulation will become law soon, with Tufton back as health minister following the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party's massive victory in the September 3 parliamentary election.

He said some members of his association would be contacting the ministry of health “one more time to find out if the Bill will be taken to the Parliament and when”.

He said the regulations would determine the funeral directors who are “permitted” to be a part of the industry.

“Based on guidelines from the Ministry of Health, it dictates certain things for you to have: the proper place of storage, visits from the public health department, get permit and license from the municipal corporation. I am saying that should be expedited, so that those who would qualify would be permitted to do the business according to rules and laws,” he stressed.

Funeral homes have been warned to be cautious in handling COVID-19 victims. The health ministry's guidelines require that undertakers should wear and properly dispose of personal protective equipment.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in its interim recommendations, released in April, shared guidance on handling the remains of COVID victims.

“Ensure that mortuary staff and the burial team apply standard precautions at all times [ie perform hand hygiene, environmental cleaning], including appropriate use of PPE; long-sleeved gown, gloves and facial protection if there is a risk of splashes from the patient's body fluids or secretions onto the body or face of the staff member,” the recommendations read in part.

“Embalming is not recommended,” another section of the recommendations read.

However, Lyn said in circumstances where the body has to be shipped overseas, embalming has to be done.

Following the first confirmed case in March, Lyn said he recommended to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) that the remains of COVID victims be cremated.

“... I said if the authorities can make the rule to say this is it, to cremate the COVID cases, it would just mean that the authorities would have to expedite the paperwork, which is not a big thing in my view,” he said.

Lyn, who is a proprietor of Lyn's Funeral Home in Mandeville said precautions have to be observed before a case of COVID-19 death is confirmed.

“Even before the case is ascertained to be COVID-19 you still have to take those extra precautions,” he said.

He disclosed that one report was brought to his attention where remains were not “properly identified” as that of a COVID-19 victim.

“...We are trained and we have the personal protective equipment to handle these cases,” Lyn said.

He echoed concerns about mourners disobeying the public gathering rules in relation to burials.

“... At a particular cemetery [in Manchester] over a hundred persons congregated [yet] we know what the rules are, a maximum of 15 people at the place of burial. We are asking the authorities to pay more attention there,” Lyn said.

Ideally, Lyn believes COVID-19 cases should be disposed of “expeditiously, as soon as all the paperwork can be done”, but he concedes that setting a definitive time frame is difficult.

In a recent case, “relatives were in quarantine for two weeks, so nothing could have happened before that regarding burial”, he said.

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