Five Hospitalized After Coronavirus Outbreak at Funeral, Despite Wearing Masks

A funeral was held in Minnesota in July to pay respect to a beloved member of a small community. People wore masks, but some hugged, held hands and wiped away their tears on the day. Some 30 attendees later contracted coronavirus, with five hospitalized due to the disease.

Attendees tried to maintain social distance and many wore masks at the funeral to honor the life of 78-year-old Francis Perreault, who suffered from Parkinson's disease and strokes. He was described by his daughter as a "wonderful" man.

"We tried to do everything right, but of course when you're grieving, you let your guard down," said Stephanie Schindler, Perreault's daughter.

"One of my friends that got sick was wearing a mask the whole time," said the daughter to Star Tribune after the funeral at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, in Lake Park, Becker County. "But of course when you're crying, you're going to be rubbing your face".

"I think it's part of the process of coming to terms with things," Schindler said of people comforting each other. "It's closure for the living and ­support for each other."

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz passed an executive order on June 10, allowing funerals in the state to take place, as long as there are social distancing measures between households. Indoor funerals can take place at 50 percent of normal capacity, with a maximum of 250 people.

Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health said to local press that although funerals are allowed, they're not a good idea during the pandemic.

"All of us at the department, from the leadership down to the individuals working the front lines, understand people's need to have gatherings like funerals and weddings and graduation parties," said Schultz.

Pallbearers at funeral
Photo to depict a funeral. In Minnesota, one family was overwhelmed after many of their funeral guests contracted COVID-19. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

"It pains us all to see that it's probably not a good idea to have those gatherings. And it pains us to see Minnesotans not having these important rites of passage. But COVID-19 is still very much with us. The pandemic is still very much with us. And so gatherings like these do pose a risk."

Schindler had dealt with her father's death, but the mass coronavirus incident left her overwhelmed. "This aftermath happened, and that has been harder for us to come to terms with," she said. "I'm kind of overwhelmed."

The daughter urged people to be careful and continue to use preventative measures, as coronavirus is a real threat—even to those in small-town communities. "Please be careful," said Schindler, "even in this rural area, there is still COVID."

Becker County, Minnesota, has 148 cases to date, according to the county's department of health.