Jane Michael has not yet grieved for her sister, Bertie Oliver, who died of COVID-19 Dec. 28 in Elizabethtown, Ky. She was 92.
“I am the last remaining sister of four,” said Jane, a resident of the Cheat Lake area of Morgantown.
Jane said her sister — who had fallen and broken her hip and developed pneumonia in both lungs — wanted to be buried next to her husband Elmer. But when Bertie’s two sons told the Kentucky funeral director their mother’s wishes, they were told her body was contagious, something that has not yet been proven.
“They were also told a service in the funeral home, even a small one, would be a bad idea,” she said.
Even though the virus can live on a surface for hours, the greatest risk for transmission of the novel coronavirus is from person to person, according to medicine.net. Still, local funeral home directors like Dan Hastings, of Hastings Funeral Home Inc., in Morgantown exercise precautions when it comes to both preparing the body and holding a service.
“We try and give as much closure to the family as we can,” said Hastings, adding he is frustrated by the lack of direction given to his industry by entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On its website, the CDC said morticians should follow routine prevention and control precautions and use PPE — personal protection equipment.
Jared Jenkins, of Fred L. Jenkins Funeral Home in Morgantown, said the care of someone who died of COVID-19 is no different from that of someone who died a natural death.
“Universal precautions has been our standard since the 1980s,” he said. “It shouldn’t be any different.”
Bodies can be embalmed or cremated and visitation can be held, the CDC said. In many cases, funeral directors have limited visitation to immediate family members and close friends. Also some, like Hastings, offer live-streaming of services — something that has worked out well for clients.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Hastings said. “We’re here 24/7 to support and be supported.”
Jane Michael, who could not attend her sister’s service because of COVID-19 safety concerns, said her nephews opted for cremation, but never had a chance to first see their mother’s body. Bertie Oliver’s ashes were interred next to her husband, she said.
“I am doing OK,” said Jane, adding she and her sister talked often. “We had a warm and wonderful relationship.”