The coronavirus has touched the lives of every person in the United States. Self-quarantine and social distancing are the order of the day. And now, funerals have been added to that list of most sacred communal events as well.
As cities and states rush to limit gatherings of nearly any size, and some other countries are locked down entirely, the pandemic is changing how we handle death. Italy has banned traditional funeral services; Irish officials told funeral directors to allow only close family members into services and Iranian medical workers have reported that health precautions were upending Islamic burial traditions.
Locally, funeral homes and cemeteries have been following stringent guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus while keeping loved ones of the departed and staff members of the facility safe.
The immediate family of the deceased can now attend a private funeral and burial in New York. That’s the state government’s clarification of the rules after Gov. Cuomo’s executive order last Friday banning all gatherings, funeral directors were told there could be no funeral ceremonies or visitations in New York State because of the coronavirus shutdown.
Thankfully, that law has changed but only slightly.
At St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst, the 200-year-old cemetery is taking the following precautions to help protect persons against the virus.
“Access to our crematory and chapel is closed as well as our mausoleum,” said St. Michael’s Cemetery General Manager Dennis Werner. “We also cannot allow anyone except the funeral director and the cemetery workers inside any of our mausoleums for a chapel or crypt interment.”
As for the next of kin, no more than two people including a religious leader will be permitted at the gravesite.
No more than one vehicle other than the funeral car will be allowed to enter the cemetery. Visitors to graves will be allowed to visit the grave of a loved one and then must promptly leave.
At national cemeteries, no families are allowed at all.
The consequences when a person dies from the coronavirus are much grimmer.
“If the person is a victim of the virus there is only a direct burial. No wake. No witnesses. Nobody,” said Phil Romanelli, manager of Romanelli-Stephen Funeral Home of Ozone Park.
He added that if a loved dies a noncorona virus-related death, then the deceased can be waked at a funeral home.
At Romanelli-Stephen, located at 89-01 Rockaway Blvd. and 133-20 Crossbay Blvd., only 10 people at a time are allowed inside for the viewing and they can only remain for one hour.
“Since houses of worship are closed there are no religious services and since flower shops are closed no one is able to send flowers,” added Romanelli.
“We are doing the best we can with what we got. Unless there is a new law, this is the way things have to be and it’s very sad and unfortunate,” he said.