Private funerals will be norm under COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings in Alberta

Grieving families are navigating new rules around funerals as part of the effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The gathering restrictions have been challenging for families in the worst time in their life,” Tyler Weber, president of the Alberta Funeral Service Association, said Wednesday on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“As they’re experiencing grief, another layer of uncertainty has now been added on to their pain. However, most people understand and want to do their part in keeping our community and in our funeral home safe.

“Invitation-only” funerals need to be the norm going forward, to ensure that the gatherings remain capped at 50 people or less, he said.

If the celebrations are announced publicly, “we lose the ability to maintain the restrictions,” Weber said.

As well, the offering of coffee, sandwiches and squares to guests following a funeral is also being affected.

“We’re recommending the provision of food and beverage services be restricted or discontinued just so that we don’t have cross contamination from person to person transmission of the virus that may happen to come to a funeral,” Weber said.

Most funeral homes are now equipped with web-cams, allowing other friends and loved ones to still be part of services, albeit from a distance, he said.

Weber said the funeral industry was relieved to hear the government restrictions around gatherings, which were announced Tuesday by Premier Jason Kenney.

‘Unprecedented in my time’

The industry had already brought in measures to protect its staff as well as the families, he said.

“This is totally unprecedented in my time,” he said. “The last time that I’m aware of any …  restrictions on funeral services would have been 1918. The Spanish flu — that would have been the last time that a measure was taken.”

But Weber stressed that unlike in 1918, today’s restrictions don’t in any way affect funeral rites from taking place. 

“People can still go through with their normal funeral rites. The only thing that’s changing is we have to consider the amount of people that can be there,” he said.

“That’s why we’re recommending making it a private invitational event, then we can control it. This helps keep our community safe which everybody wants to do. And it also helps keep the funeral home staff safe as well.”

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