Recently, the United States officially declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a national emergency. National, state, and local officials are hoping to slow the spread of the disease in order to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system and its resources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the virus seems to spread from person-to-person contact, which means people have to take precautions during events like funerals.  

If you are attending a funeral during this outbreak, here are six precautions you can take to ensure you and your family remain healthy

1. Practice Social Distancing

Although officials are unsure how the virus behaves, they believe it spreads through close contact with someone who is sick. That’s why many people are choosing to practice social distancing, which is defined as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”  

Since a funeral or memorial can involve a lot of people in close contact, you can try to sit further apart from others if there is enough space. Additionally, instead of hugs and handshakes, offer kind words and sympathy notes to those who are grieving.

2. Cover Your Mouth When You Cough

Officials also believe the virus can spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Covering your mouth with your arm or a handkerchief can prevent the spread of these droplets. The CDC does not recommend using a face mask if you are not sick. However, if you think you have the virus, wearing a mask can prevent your coughs from infecting others. Face masks may be limited, so if you are healthy, the best thing you can do is avoid coming into contact with someone who might be sick. 

3. Wash Hands Thoroughly and Regularly

Washing your hands is important to prevent the spread of any virus, including COVID-19. Germs can collect on your hands if you touch a surface that someone with the disease has also touched. Thorough and regular handwashing is an easy way to prevent the disease from spreading. When you attend a service, don’t be afraid to ask the funeral home staff where you can wash your hands. This should be done before and after the service to help maintain cleanliness.

4. Avoid Large Gatherings

Avoiding those who may be sick is key to slowing the spread of the disease. The CDC, along with federal, state, and local officials, are urging or mandating restrictions on social gatherings to “flatten the curve.” However, grieving people will still need the support of loved ones during a time of loss. Small gatherings or visits with the immediate family may still be possible in some areas that are least affected. Staggered events can also ensure that not too many people are gathered at the same time in the same place. Be sure to follow federal, state, and local recommendations and mandates to help keep everyone healthy and safe. If you cannot attend a funeral or memorial event, here are a few ways you can show your support for the grieving family.

5. Stay Home if You Are Sick

Staying home if you are sick or suspect you may have been exposed to the virus is paramount to stopping the spread of the disease. If you or a loved one were exposed to the virus, proceed with an abundance of caution. Stay home and make every effort to limit contact with others in your community. At this time, the CDC believes that infection is most likely once symptoms are present; however, they do state that some spread might be possible before people show symptoms. 

6. Follow Directions of Funeral Home Staff

Finally, follow the directions of the funeral home and staff. The funeral home may recommend limiting the size of public gatherings, postponing events, or live streaming events with only immediate family present, depending on how prevalent the outbreak is in your area. Some funeral homes are limiting their number of visitations and funeral services to one per day so they can ensure minimal exposure to others. If these services are held, the funeral home staff will likely take precautions such as holding open doors to limit your contact with surfaces, having one person sign register books, or offering electronic options. The funeral home may also limit the use of printed programs or other items. Alternatively, they may schedule funeral arrangement meetings over the phone or other technology to limit person-to-person contact.  

Remember, the needs of the grieving family for love and support during a time of grief don’t go away. If you can attend a funeral, show up! Even if you can’t offer hugs, your presence is more than enough.