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Funeral homes coping with crowds

SOUTH POINT — While the limits on crowd sizes due to the coronavirus have impacted many industries, one that has been uniquely impacted is area funeral homes.

Rick Slack, owner and funeral director at Slack and Wallace Funeral Home in South Point, said they had been initially scheduling visitations in blocks of 40 or less per hour.

At the time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had recommended crowd sizes being kept to less than 50 people.

However, on Monday, President Donald Trump announced an advisory that crowds should be limited to no more than 10 people in order to flatten the curve of the disease’s spread.

Slack said they are treating the advisory as a “have to” situation and are now advising families to limit visitation to immediate families.

He said their business has regularly emphasized cleanliness and hygiene, wiping down high-use areas, such as bathrooms and doorknobs, and providing hand sanitizer.

“But we’re putting even more emphasis on that now,” he said.

John Baker, owner and director of O’Keefe Baker Funeral Home in Ironton, said his facility is “playing it by ear” as directives and advisories change.

He said, since his business is licensed in Ohio, he is following the directives put forth by Gov. Mike DeWine.

“You have a plan, but things keep updating and changing,” he said.

He said he has not had to do a service since the newer limits went into place.

“It’s wait and see for us,” he said, stating he plans to stay in contact with others in his industry to comply with guidelines going forward.

He said a challenge will be, if they limit to immediate family members, many families can number in the dozens when taking into account multiple siblings and sets of grandchildren.

Slack, who said his funeral home typically has two to three services a week, said they have not had a service since the crowd advisory was changed, with their next one scheduled for later this week.

He said the funeral home has a banquet room, which they typically offer to families to meet after a service.

“But that is unavailable for now,” he said. “We want to limit how many people we put in one room.”

Slack said the challenge is finding ways to work with the new guidelines, but to still offer comfort for families.

He said, to date, he has not had families express major concerns or take issue.

“We’ve been pretty proactive,” he said of their approach, and said they are also providing literature on hygiene and the nature of the virus.