COVID deaths cause unease at some funeral homes, others see no problemSaturday, February 27, 2021
BY CANDICE HAUGHTON
There are mixed views among funeral home operators about the effect that COVID-19 is having on their operations.
Some say the rising number of fatalities will place a strain on storage space for cadavers, while others believe the opposite.
Christopher Lyew, director of Lee's Funeral Home in Red Hills, St Andrew, is among those who are concerned.
“It's worrying. You have to take into consideration how you are going to keep all these remains. It's very concerning [with] the spike that we are being told is happening; we just have to maybe watch to see the outcome in terms of the death rate going up,” he told the Jamaica Observer last Friday as the COVID-19 death toll stood at 391 from a total of 20,924 cases reported since March 11 last year.
On Thursday, the health and wellness ministry reported that deaths from the respiratory disease had climbed to 410, while the country's positive novel coronavirus case count had increased to 22,267. Of that number, 13,173 patients had recovered from the illness.
Lyew said his business, which can store up to 80 bodies, is looking at ways to expand as a contingency plan.
“We are thinking of putting in a temporary 20-foot refrigerated container,” he explained.
Lyew's concern was shared by Rohan Hendricks, director for Hendricks Funeral Home on Molynes Road in St Andrew.
He said while the spike in cases is worrisome, what bothers him most is the length of time forensic autopsy takes to be completed, which, he said, can lead to a significant amount of backlog.
“Sometimes it takes even two months [to complete an autopsy] and when the family receives their loved one after autopsy they're in a terrible state because [of] being on the ice for so long,” Hendricks said.
Office manager at Doyley's Funeral Home in Westmoreland, Cheryl Foster, was equally distressed.
“We are worried, but we stock up on supplies in the event that it gets worse,” she told the Observer. “We store bodies for the hospital, so we have a lot of space.”
However, Madden's Funeral Home Director Leslie Martin said he was not perturbed.
“From what I see so far, our numbers are low in terms of death. The spike is high, but the death rate is actually not as overbearing as [in] the [United] States. My facilities are equipped to handle large numbers. We actually work for the Government with police cases; numbers won't bother us,” said Martin whose funeral homes in both Montego Bay and Kingston can store up to 120 bodies combined.
Alvin Davis, director for Young's Funeral Home in Spanish Town, St Catherine, said he, too, was not concerned.
“I don't see any issues right now. I suppose it can happen, but I'm just not foreseeing it anytime soon,” Davis said, adding that he does not have a contingency plan at the moment, since his facility can store up to 40 bodies.
Donovan Bell, who runs Bell's Funeral Home in Manchester, said he was “not necessarily [troubled] because there are more then 300 funeral homes in Jamaica”, and as such, storage is not an issue.
He urged Jamaicans not to panic and to ensure that they check the relevant Government agencies for information and safety advice on the pandemic.
Concerns about storage at funeral homes were raised last April as the country started to feel the effects of the pandemic.
At the time, a number of funeral home directors had told the Observer that most of their clients were postponing burials, leading to a pile-up of bodies.
“Most persons are waiting on this thing [pandemic] to pass and the deceased are not being buried,” Michael Jones, director at Jones Funeral Home in the Corporate Area, said.
“The amount of funerals has reduced and the bodies are here piling up. When this is over, all these persons are going to want to bury their dead at one time, which is only going to cause a backlog,” Jones had lamented, adding that the economic impact of the pandemic had made it more difficult for families to pay for burials.
Another funeral home director, Gordon Chuck, at Sam Isaacs and Sons in Spanish Town, had said that some families had been downgrading their packages, but most customers were choosing to wait.
“Funerals that should have taken place are not taking place and this has put a strain on our capacity to keep the bodies. All of my refrigeration units have to be on and so expenses are through the roof. Storage costs are through the roof,” Chuck told the Observer at the time.
At House of Tranquillity, also in the Corporate Area, Funeral Director Joseph Cornwall said there had been a sharp dip in the number of burials each week.
“Normally we have up to 40 funerals per week, but right now burials are down, and we have a backlog of bodies waiting to be buried. Because of the situation, families are employing a wait-and-see attitude,” said Cornwall.
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