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Coronavirus changes how funeral directors conduct business
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Coronavirus changes how funeral directors conduct business

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Bartholomew Funeral Home

“Our state and national associations are suggesting we have smaller visitation and that anyone with symptoms of the disease not attend," said Michael Newhard, of Bartholomew Funeral Home of Valparaiso, shown. “There is the possibility of a service at the grave site and then a memorial service to celebrate their life later, when things settle down."

Northwest Indiana residents are having to learn new ways of paying their last respects to those dying during the coronavirus pandemic.

Local funeral directors said public health guidelines requiring social distance are putting an end to wakes and funeral Masses where mourning family members and friends huddle in large numbers.

“It’s a very confusing time,” John Pruzin Jr., of Solan Pruzin Funeral Homes of Hammond and Schererville, said this week as the numbers of people being tested and diagnosed with COVID-19 rises daily. “We are concerned about helping families dealing with a loss and protecting the public’s health and safety.”

In Italy, where the death toll has exceeded 4,800 on Sunday and many are being forced to remain at home, victims have been buried with only a priest and a health care professional present.

“We are behind the curve of what is happening in Italy, but it's inevitable this will happen in the state of Indiana," said Pat Reynolds, funeral director of Michigan City’s Ott Haverstock Funeral Chapel. “The Catholic Diocese in Gary has canceled all Masses and are only allowing funerals inside the church with the immediate family only."

David Pastrick, of Oleska-Pastrick Funeral Home of East Chicago, said he and other funeral directors are receiving guidance from their state and national associations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The coronavirus affects the family more than the funeral directors, but it is certainly not business as usual,” Pastrick said.

He said many who attend funeral services are elderly and at greater risk where handshakes and other close contact is expected.

Pastrick said funeral directors and the embalmers have experience in handling worrisome situations.

“We use universal precautions, and we are all still here," he said. "I’ve been doing this for 34 years.”

Reynolds added, “But we need to meet with the deceased’s family, who may be infected. That will be a little different.

“Our funeral home has been here for 144 years, so we know most of the families we serve. We have to remain calm, be diligent and practice the guidelines set out because if we and health care workers become sick, who is going to take care of everyone else?”

Michael Newhard, of Bartholomew Funeral Home of Valparaiso, said funeral homes are receiving new suggestions for handling services during this time.

“Our state and national associations are suggesting we have smaller visitation and that anyone with symptoms of the disease not attend," Newhard said.

“There is the possibility of a service at the gravesite and then a memorial service to celebrate their life later, when things settle down."

Carmelita V. Perry, of Guy and Allen Funeral Directors Home in Gary, said they are consulting with the churches about how to proceed.

“All of our funerals are going to be at churches this weekend, and the pastors will mandate how services run," Perry said last week.

“The one funeral we had (recently) wasn’t crowded," she said. "Thus far, we have been lucky."

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