COVID-19 moves more funeral services online to limit the size of gatherings

“I bet it’s a good 30% of people wanting to do it (virtually) because they are just trying to appease the friends but also stay safe”
“I bet it’s a good 30% of people wanting to do it (virtually) because they are just trying to appease the friends but also stay safe”
Published: Dec. 7, 2020 at 11:25 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - COVID-19 cases and deaths are still on the rise in the Gem State, and KMVT checked in with some funeral homes to see how the virus is impacting business and families’ ability to mourn the loss of a loved one.

Charles Grunig, who is the funeral director at Relyea Funeral Chapel in Boise, said his business does about 260 services a year, and this year it is shaping up to be more like 275, but he said the increase he and other funeral providers are seeing isn’t entirely due to COVID.

“They are seeing an increase in funerals due to the people that are moving into the state from neighboring states from other parts of the country,” Grunig said. “We are also seeing an increase in the number of deaths from the baby boomer generation. I think those are more realistic, at least from my perspective, the reason we are seeing an increased number of deaths in the funeral industry.”

Grunig also said of the COVID-related deaths he has seen none have been children or youth. They have been middle-aged or older people most of whom had pre-existing conditions.

“So COVID wasn’t necessarily the primary cause of death; it was a secondary or underlying cause, which most likely means COVID exasperated their pre-existing health conditions or contributed to what those conditions were,” Grunig said.

Dustin Godfrey, who is the funeral director at Rosenau Funeral Home & Crematory in Twin Falls, said his business hasn’t seen a huge influx in funeral services this year, but what he is seeing is an increase in people holding virtual services.

“I bet it’s a good 30% of people wanting to do it (virtually) because they are just trying to appease the friends but also stay safe,” Godfrey said.

He also said if people have come in and pre-planned/pre-arranged and paid for a full traditional service with viewing and everything, now they are getting a little money back because some of those things can’t be provided now with COVID.

“You are talking $500 to $600 of stuff that they might have done,” Godfrey said. “Maybe they are not doing a register book anymore because they don’t want to pass the pen around.”

Grunig said COVID-19 hasn’t just affected the way funerals are held indoors; it has also impacted the way funeral services are held outdoors at cemeteries.

“The most difficult part for us has been working with the cemeteries,” Grunig said.

With the State of Idaho moving back to Stage 2, gatherings have been limited to 10 people or less, but the governor’s order does have exemptions for religious services. However, some cemeteries, depending on whether they are privately owned or run by a city, are limiting gatherings to 10 or less. Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls is offering people the option of having a service, “Graveside for 10-15 people” and “stream the live event for the family.”

“They (clients) are like this doesn’t make sense,” Grunig said. “We have 25 people at your funeral chapel, social distancing, wearing masks, and we are going to a cemetery which is outdoors. There is more room, we can spread out and be safer there, and the cemetery is saying we are allowing only 10 people or less.”

He said the situation is really hard on families and some are really upset because how many families have 10 people or less, and many people view going to the cemetery and watching the casket being lowered and being with their loved one right up till the end.

KMVT reached out to some cemeteries in the Twin Falls and Ada County area to see what their COVID protocols are, but we were not able to talk to one in time for this story. However, Grunig said from what he has heard cemeteries are trying to protect their staff and their equipment from potential exposure.

“They have small crews, so if they lose a couple of people due to COVID that puts more pressure on them and makes it even harder for them to serve families,” Grunig said.

Godfrey said what some people are doing is having the body buried now but scheduling the funeral service for a later time when large gatherings might be allowed again.

“Yeah, there are quite a few that are waiting to over the spring. We will see how that pans out. and if we can get back to full gatherings,” Godfrey said. “At least over the year, 20 to 30 families that are waiting until springtime.”

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