Undertakers carrying a coffin in Bergamo, Lombardy on March 16, 2020.
Undertakers carrying a coffin in Bergamo, Lombardy on March 16, 2020.
Photo: Piero Cruciatti (AFP via Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned morticians that large funerals should be livestreamed instead due to the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country.

Per Motherboard, in a live stream on Monday CDC officials advised that any event with over 50 attendees should be postponed for the next eight weeks, which epidemiologist David Berendes confirmed included “large funerals.” Berendes advised morticians that “If livestreaming and limiting events to immediate family is possible, we encourage that.”

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A CDC advisory via the National Funeral Directors Association advised that while there is “currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of covid-19,” the disease caused by the virus, individuals “should consider” not engaging in any physical contact with the deceased. (Embalming and transporting bodies is safe with precautions such as use of personal protective equipment and body bags treated with disinfectant.) In addition to livestreaming ceremonies, the guidelines state that loved ones of the deceased should also considering having a memorial service at a later date instead of a funeral now.

Motherboard reported earlier this month that funeral directors were less concerned with the low risk posed by deceased individuals than coming into contact with large numbers of potentially infected attendees at a time when health authorities are urging social distancing. Washington State Funeral Directors Association executive director Rob Goff told the site that morticians use “universal precautions” and that “If you’re trained and you’re responsible, you’re safe. This is the nature of the job we do.”

“That’s our prerogative to say, we’re not working with [those who have died of covid-19],” Goff added.But it’s irresponsible. It’s just stupid.”

Supplies of some personal protective equipment are running low, however. While federal health authorities are recommending that events with 50 or more attendees be canceled or downsized, current social distancing guidelines in place may have to become even more strict as the outbreak continues to spread. Many states and localities are already taking more dramatic action, such as San Francisco, where the entire populace has been asked to remain inside except for basic needs such as buying groceries or visiting doctors and working at essential businesses like pharmacies and banks. In Italy, hospitals and morgues are overwhelmed, with traditional funeral services outlawed as part of emergency restrictions.

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As of Monday evening, the New York Times tracker lists at least 4,115 confirmed cases across the U.S. that have resulted in at least 73 deaths; this is likely an underestimate, as many who fall sick may feel only minor symptoms or none at all while still spreading the virus. A large-scale study in China, where the disease originated, found that around 80.9 percent of cases were mild while around 13.8 percent were moderate and 4.7 were critical, with an overall death rate of 2.3 percent; however, older individuals or those with certain preexisting conditions are at much higher risk.

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