Tulare funeral home adapting to 'new normal' during coronavirus pandemic

TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, funeral homes across the county and in the Central Valley have faced new challenges and changed their normal operating procedures.

"I think initially, when the stand in place order first went into effect, everyone was like, 'Oh, we'll wait until after Easter to plan our service," said Ronald Smith, who manages Sterling & Smith Funeral Homes in Tulare and Dinuba. "'We can wait three or four weeks to have a service.' Now they've realized we kind of have a new normal. Our families are like, 'Well, we need to go ahead and proceed and plan our services.'"

The doors at both locations are locked, and Smith says they're encouraging families to schedule appointments over the phone and make payments and sign documents online.

They're still offering visitations and funeral services, but limiting the gatherings to 10 people.

Many, including the family of a COVID-19 patient who recently died, are choosing to hold short viewings at the funeral home, with a service to follow at the cemetery.

Plexiglass coverings are being placed on the caskets of those who have passed from the disease.

"So we're trying to get creative to still do things in a safe manner, but by also giving family members that opportunity for closure," Smith said.

"Transmission from respiratory droplets is not a concern when handling human remains or performing postmortem procedures," The California Department of Public Health says. "However, funeral establishment workers and others who handle decedents should take precautions to avoid contact with potentially infectious bodily fluids and inhalable aerosols during transfers and embalming."

Smith says they're handling COVID decedents, three so far, the same way they handle those who have died of other infectious diseases.

His workers are using personal protective equipment, or PPE, both in the removal and preparation stages.

"They're wearing double gloves, they're wearing a face shield," Smith said. "They'll have their respirators on if need be. They're taking every precaution possible, because we want to make sure that one, when the family sees their loved one, the family is safe. But also, we want to make sure that our staff is safe while they're performing their duties."

For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus
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