April Havens of Dameron was not allowed to visit her father at his assisted living home in Virginia this spring, since COVID-19 has caused long-term care facilities to be closed to the public. But her father, Jerry Price, called every day, until May 11.
When Havens and her sister called to check on him, they were told he was not doing well. The 87-year-old was taken to the hospital and tested positive for the novel coronavirus, though he showed no symptoms, Havens said. But on May 18, the supervisor of the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum said her father started going down hill. Two days later, his kidneys failed.
“They wanted to return him to an assisted living facility. Absolutely not. Our father is not dying alone,” she said.
Havens and her sister brought her back to his Virginia home and, with the help of a coronavirus-certified hospice nurse, took care of him until he died on May 23.
The next day, they started making funeral arrangements. A visit at the Virginia funeral home had to be scheduled for the rest of the family to see Clark, and only a couple people could see him at a time while wearing masks.
Now the family is preparing to travel to North Carolina for the burial that can have no more than 50 people. And her doctor told her to quarantine herself for two weeks when she returns to St. Mary’s, an extra layer to add on to what she called the “most horrific experience” she has ever been through. Funerals have adjusted its operations and services since COVID-19. Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) restrictions on the state made it challenging for funerals in their customary fashion.
“Everyone talks about the first responders and how bad it is for first responders … we’re the ones that are there and have to take care of them,” Ned Brinsfield, owner of Brinsfield Life Celebration Funeral Homes and Crematory, said.
They sanitize every four hours, wear masks and try to be as careful as possible.
Brinsfield told The Enterprise before the state entered its reopening plan and expanded gatherings, the 10-person limit was difficult given some people have 10 people in their immediate families.
“That makes the next of kin have to select or choose” who can attend the service, he said.
Brinsfield, whose funeral homes are located in Charlotte Hall and Leonardtown, said they have to not only tell the families the rules of the funeral home, but the rules of some of the cemeteries. For example, Maryland’s veteran webpage said no more than 10 family members are permitted at the gravesite, and they must remain in their cars during the service and burial.
Kim Briscoe-Tonic of Briscoe-Tonic Funeral Home said it is challenging to find personal protective equipment and noted the prices for that gear have “quadrupled” since the pandemic. She said she received some help from the Charles County Health Department for her Waldorf location and St. Mary’s health department for her Mechanicsville location, but it is not given everything that is needed.
“People forget about funeral homes,” she said.
Brinsfield said he tells families up front what the guidelines are and noted how it kept changing, which makes it difficult. At one point, he said, the rules changed three times in one week. When COVID first hit, he said only 50 people could attend the funeral.
“Then it was 30. Then it dropped down to 10,” he said, adding that he tries to put the updates on the website.
The 10-person limit was difficult, Brinsfield said, because some people had more than 10 people in their immediate family and his job was to encourage social distancing.
“How do you separate a family in a time like that?” he said.
As of this week, funerals can be half-capacity, guests must wear masks, social distancing is suggested and people who are sick cannot attend. Before the capacity increased, Briscoe-Tonic said for almost every service, the police were called because the crowd of people in the parking lot of her St. Mary’s location. Although she kept 10 people inside, the rest of the party stands outside, and bystanders assumed she was breaking the guidelines, she said.
When working, Brinsfield said they treat every death as if they died from COVID.
“Learning about it five or 10 days after doesn’t do it any good,” he added.
Briscoe-Tonic said it helps to know beforehand if the person had the virus.
“And a lot of people are under the false impression that they have to do cremations for COVID cases,” she said, adding that a lot of people do it anyway because they opt for a shorter service.
On top of the operational adjustments, Briscoe-Tonic said she is also working with a smaller staff since some of her coworkers tested positive for COVID.
“Our workers get no credit for what we do,” she said, adding that they take a risk when they do their jobs.