Removals and Actively handling the deceased
COVID-19 is transmissible from person – to person by droplet spray (sneezing and coughing) and close contact with someone who is infected. This is not an airborne illness like TB or measles. With just that knowledge we know that we cannot contract this virus by simply walking into the room of the deceased or an infected individual. The deceased is no longer coughing or sneezing, therefore no droplet contact is a risk.
Unfortunately, it takes an event like this for us to ponder our methods and personal safety. We have been embalming for 2.5 decades at Tallon Mortuary Specialists , Navan, Co.Meath. As a specialists Embalmer and death care Practitioner ,I have been involved in the specialist treatment of infectious diseases and I have embalmed cases that had a significant transmissible infection that played a major role in their untimely death. All our staff are highly qualified and skilled to deal with these death care situations . Again, it is always the fear of the unknown that dictates our drastic decisions whether to Embalm or not. All my staff are extra diligent and confident in the handling of any infectious disease such as airborne Viral infections.
All deceased persons that we are called upon to serve through Tallon Mortuary Specialists are treated with utmost dignity and respect regardless of the nature of death or situation.
As of March 2020, the CDC (Centre for Disease Control ) recommends N95 / FFP3 mask or greater must be worn when aerosolization could occur. I have seen documentation that states droplet precaution should be taken for routine care of patients with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 and airborne precautions are performed. In our world as Embalmers that would include aspiration and cleaning the mouth, eyes, and anything else that may cause aerosolization of bodily fluids.
Transporting a deceased with COVID -19
Funeral service workers can safely remove the body of a COVID - 19 patient from the place of death and transport it to the funeral home or preparation room for mortuary procedures using appropriate standard infection control measures, which includes wearing personal protective gear. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends placing the body in a leak proof pouch prior to moving. The bag should be lined with absorbent material to prevent leakage of body fluids. In instances where there is excess fluid, a double bag can be utilized. After transporting, all surfaces (i.e. stretchers, cots) should be disinfected with bleach.
COVID-19 – Handling of bodies by funeral directors
This interim guidance is based on what is currently known about COVID-19. The infection is spread through contact with contaminated droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or from contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects. Funeral directors and mortuary personnel are unlikely to contract COVID-19 from deceased persons infected with the virus, however the following precautionary strategies should be used to minimise public health risks and to prevent spread of disease:
- Maintain routine infection control procedures when handling or transporting bodies confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19
- Wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times
- Use leak-proof body bags to store and transport the body and label the bag “COVID-19 – Handle with care”
- Embalming of a body confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 is permitted
- Family viewing of the deceased may occur, however family members should avoid any contact with the body.
Risk to funeral directors and mortuary personnel
The risk of transmission of COVID-19 from handling the body of a deceased person is low. Funeral industry personnel should however employ infection prevention and control measures when handling bodies. Further information is available in the NSW Health Infection Control Policy.
Preparing to manage bodies with COVID-19
Before accepting deceased persons with COVID-19, funeral directors should review their own infection control policies and procedures and ensure staff are familiar with these practices. This may include providing training in hand hygiene and how to put on and remove Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).