Suzanne Gebel, executive director of the Iowa Funeral Directors Association, says they’re adapting to follow the governor’s mandate which bans gatherings of ten or more people to help prevent the spread of the virus. Gebel says, “A lot of funerals are being done privately and then the celebration of life is being scheduled for later, once the restrictions are removed.”
In some circumstances, grieving families are asking for the rules to be bent to allow larger families to gather and mourn the loss of a loved one, but Gebel says it’s simply not permitted to defy the mandate. “There are also cases across the country where funeral homes who have defied it are being traced back to being the epicenter of a community’s outbreak,” Gebel says, “and that’s definitely not what any funeral director across this state would want.”
Technology is helping distant family members who can’t make the trip back to Iowa interact with loved ones at funerals. With coronavirus, Gebel says the use of the internet by Iowa funeral homes is being stepped up on a grand scale. “They’re using Facebook Live, they’re using Zoom, they’re doing YouTubes, they’re also doing just private FaceTime to family members,” Gebel says. “Funeral directors across the state are willing to work with families to provide whatever they can in this odd time.”
Some federal health officials estimate the number of dead from COVID-19 could reach 200,000 nationwide. Gebel says Iowa funeral homes are prepared to handle an influx in deaths, and she says they’re striving to cope with one particular challenge.
“Funeral directors are required, and it’s obviously absolutely necessary, for them to use the personal protective equipment, the PPE that we hear is in such great shortage,” Gebel says. “We are working with folks in our state and nationwide to secure some PPE for our funeral directors.”
Founded in 1880, the Iowa Funeral Directors Association represents more than 700 Iowa-licensed funeral directors and 425 funeral homes.