CDC Urges Mourners to Livestream Funerals to Avoid Spread of Coronavirus

As the number of lives claimed by the novel coronavirus continues to rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging Americans and the world to livestream any funerals of their loved ones.

In a webinar with the National Funeral Directors Association this week, the CDC said there was no evidence to suggest that people could be infected from a deceased person if their cause of death was coronavirus-related.

But the agency said people should follow social distancing advice and limit how many people attend funerals in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. David Berendes, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said funerals should be limited to close relatives and streamed online for other mourners.

"As you think about planning for the event, limit the number of people if possible, use live-streaming options and perhaps have only immediately family on hand," he said. "While you're at the event, promote social distancing etiquette, hand hygiene and try to limit other people coming in and out."

Even before the advice from the CDC, some funeral homes in the U.S. had already started offering to livestream services.

Coronavirus testing
A view of Carney Hospital in Dorchester, MA on March 17, 2020 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The hospital, part of the Steward Health Care System, is the nation's first "Dedicated Care Center" exclusively treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Erich Schepp, who owns Schepp Family Funeral Homes in Fayetteville, New York, and is the president of the Central New York Funeral Directors Association, told things will have to change after the state banned gatherings of 50 or more people.

Schepp said many funeral homes, including his, have webcams that allow them to stream for those who can't attend in person.

He said that a pastor at the weekend was unable to travel to the funeral home due to restrictions related to the pandemic and carried out his service via webcam for both mourners attending the funeral and those watching at home.

Other countries have also changed how funerals are conducted during the pandemic. The BBC reported that some funeral homes are also offering livestreaming services in the U.K., even before any official advice on the issue.

One funeral director told the BBC that he offered live-streaming services before the outbreak for around $75 (£62), but now he would be waiving the fee.

In Ireland, the Irish Association of Funeral Directors sparked a backlash after it said that all funeral service for coronavirus victims should be postponed and the deceased brought straight to a crematorium or cemetery.

In Italy, the worst-hit country outside of China, with more than 31,000 confirmed cases and over 2,500 deaths, more drastic measures have been taken—funerals have been banned. Instead, priests are allowed to say a simple prayer during burials attended by just a few people.

The new coronavirus has sickened more than 198,000 people around the world and killed almost 8,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 81,000 people have recovered.

In the U.S., 6,496 cases had been confirmed as of Wednesday morning and the death toll has climbed to 114. Seventeen people have recovered so far.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of COVID-19

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing;
  • When caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities, follow guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks.
  • Clean hands after disposing of mask, do not reuse single-use masks.