How do morticians protect themselves when handling COVID-19 bodies?

morticians covid
Photo via Mr. Littlehand/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In COVID-19 hotspots around the U.S., funeral homes are at capacity and filled with people who died from the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, for example, mortuaries have had to turn away bodies. So, when morticians find themselves surrounded by dead bodies infected with COVID-19, how do they protect themselves from the virus? 

Lots and lots of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructs morticians to follow their regular infection prevention routine and to control precautions with COVID-19 bodies. The CDC recommends extra PPE if “splashing of fluids” is expected. Morticians should also spray the body bag with an EPA-approved disinfectant. 

When it comes to embalming, the CDC recommends morticians wear at least a disposable gown, face shield or goggles, and an N95 respirator.

“Wear appropriate respiratory protection if any procedures will generate aerosols or if required for chemicals used in accordance with the manufacturer’s label,” the CDC says. “Wear heavy-duty gloves over nitrile disposable gloves if there is a risk of cuts, puncture wounds, or other injuries that break the skin.” 

It’s still safe to bury or cremate dead bodies with the coronavirus. The CDC recommends morticians “check for any additional state and local requirements that may dictate the handling and disposition of the remains of individuals who have died of certain infectious diseases,” including COVID.

While it is safe for families to host a private viewing, family members should avoid touching the body. 

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) primarily recommends morticians follow the guidelines provided by the CDC. However, the NFDA specifies that if a mortician’s county or local government has more stringent recommendations, they should defer to that advisement. 

“I’ve only been in it [mortuaries] for 25 years or so …” Rob Karlan, the owner of Los Angeles Funeral Service, told ABC News in January. “Never been in a situation where it’s full capacity and I’ve never had to say to a family, ‘I’m sorry. We can’t help you.’ I’ve been doing that for the last 10 days.”

Source: ABC News, CDC, NFDA

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