Coronavirus Challenges Nation's Funeral Industry

Apr 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of American life – schools, corporations and governments have all had to change the way they do business, but they’re not the only ones.

Over the past few weeks, BPR's Cory Vaillancourt been reporting from Haywood County on some of the unanticipated effects of COVID-19.  He returns to Waynesville, where we’ll take a look at how it’s been affecting another vital service – the funeral industry.

It’s never an easy time when a loved one passes away, but as with almost everything else in society today, the Coronavirus Pandemic has made that process more complicated according to Wells Greeley, owner of funeral homes in Waynesville and Canton.   “We are 133 years old. The business was started by my great-grandfather back in the 1888,” said Greeley. “I'm the fourth generation of our family that has been involved in Wells funeral home, and I have other family members, my son in law who represents the fifth generation of our family. So we've been around quite some time.”

Even with all that experience, Greeley and the nation’s funeral industry are dealing with some unprecedented challenges.   “I've never seen anything like this with the degree of uncertainty that we're dealing with,” he said.

Guidance from the National Funeral Directors Association says that there’s not much risk for funeral home employees in preparing the body of a person who died from COVID-19 as long as they’re properly protected, nor is there any known risk associated with being at a funeral or visitation for someone who died of COVID-19.  The biggest risk is the large crowds that funerals and visitations often become. With social distancing requirements and bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, many families have had to adjust their plans.

“I think most families are very understanding of what the landscape is out there right now,” Greeley said.

Some have postponed commemorations or opted for private services, but others are opting to use the same tool that helps school kids continue to learn, and businesses continue to hold meetings.  “We have done, through Skype, we've transmitted funerals all over the world, so that is an option,” he said. “I'm not sure exactly how many firms are equipped to do that but given the technology today, it can be accomplished pretty quickly.”

Cards, letters and online condolences are also a great way to pay respects, without putting others at risk.