MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - With no sign of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations slowing down anytime soon, funeral homes across the country and Alabama are struggling to keep up with the increase in COVID-19 deaths.
“Funeral homes are busy right now,” said Charles Perine, Executive Director of the Alabama Board of Funeral Services. “The ones (funeral homes) that I have spoken with in the last few days are very busy. The numbers are up, the case volume is up.”
Perine said some of the increase in deaths is related to COVID-19.
“We have been seeing an increase number of deaths over the last few months, period,” Perine said. “Some of them more than others are very busy with COVID deaths, so it’s really having an impact on us.”
According to the Center for Health Statistics at the Alabama Department of Public Health, the number of deaths reported in December 2020 (5,644 deaths) were up in comparison to the same month in 2019 (4,743 deaths).
With restrictions on funeral services during the pandemic, Perine said more families are choosing socially distanced graveside services and cremation for their loved ones. He said some crematoriums are operating at full capacity, working 24/7 to keep up with demand.
“To be considering, and actually going to, running two shifts where the crematory is running 24/7 is not normal,” Perine said.
Despite an increase in cremations, Perine said it is not causing a delay in receiving a family member’s ashes. Wait times for cremation services are a case-by-case situation.
Perine said families experiencing delays are those choosing to have a service at a later date. If a family chooses to keep their loved one’s remains at the funeral home until a full service can take place, then that means it is up to the funeral home to store and care for the remains until that time.
Perine said with so many families wanting to wait, funeral homes with refrigeration capabilities are getting full.
“Because you do have firms that do not have a refrigerated system, they look to the firms that do in order to get storage space from them,” Perine said. ”I would not say that we are at a breaking point yet, but we are getting there pretty quickly in some areas of the state.”
Funeral home workers are among the Phase 1a group to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Perine said some funeral home personnel have gotten the vaccine but others are still waiting for their opportunity. He said they are working with the Alabama Department of Public Health to make sure everyone who wants it gets it.
Perine said every funeral home in the state is working hard to serve their families in the best way possible given the current circumstances. That includes following strict state guidelines to ensure a loved one’s remains are properly taken care of.
Click here for more information from the CDC on funeral guidance for individuals and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perine asks for those in the community to take the virus seriously.
“It’s real, people are dying from it. We know, we can attest to it in the funeral industry,” Perine said. “Respect it, regardless of how you personally feel about it.”