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Coronavirus: Funeral homes brace for potential surge in COVID-19 cases

Funeral homes brace for potential surge in COVID-19 cases
WATCH ABOVE: As more Canadians die from COVID-19, families with loved ones must find a way to say goodbye. Funeral homes have had to make adjustments. Shallima Maharaj reports.

With more than a million cases of the novel coronavirus globally, families have been grappling with how to say goodbye.

As a result of the ongoing spread, the number of people allowed at a funeral is 10.

In many cases, funeral homes have begun harnessing social media and digital communications to broadcast services to family members in quarantine or abroad.

“These numbers are people, and that’s a difficult thing,” said Michael Sargent, president of the Ontario Funeral Service Association.

“To think how many families are suffering as a result of this.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus is changing how we hold funerals

With a surge in cases anticipated in the coming days, Sargent said he and his industry peers have been hard at work.

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“We would need to perform our duties 24/7 whereas before with hospitals, we wouldn’t be required to come in at 4 a.m. Now the need is for us to do that,” he said.

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In New York City, the situation has become dire. Refrigerator trucks were brought in to serve as makeshift morgues since hospitals and funeral homes have become overwhelmed.

Italy, which has been especially hard-hit by COVID-19, an emergency measure was enacted to ban civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals.

Those in the funeral service profession follow what is known as “universal precautions.” They require personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been in short supply among frontline medical workers.

When asked about that, Sargent said the Bereavement Authority of Ontario has sent out a survey to gauge inventories.

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Mount Pleasant Group, which operates multiple cemeteries and funeral centres across the Greater Toronto Area, closed its gates to visitors for an indefinite period.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but our rationale for this stemmed from observations that we had made across our properties,” said Rick Cowan with Mount Pleasant Group.

READ MORE: Ontario projects just under 1,600 COVID-19 deaths, 80,000 cases by end of April

A message on its website stated that “On-site services are focused on those required because a death has occurred.”

Social distancing measures have been widely implemented.

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the fine for those who fail to maintain at least two metres of space from others in parks and public spaces has been set at $1,000.

“It’s saddened a lot of us who live here in midtown Toronto who rejoice in the ability to be able to escape the big city during normal times,” Coun. Josh Matlow said.

“I also recognize that there are governments and places like the Mount Pleasant Cemetery that are making really difficult decisions based on what they believe they need to do to support public health and save lives right now.”