FAIRMONT — When West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was hosting a conference enacting a Stay at Home order, Ford Funeral Home was preparing for an upcoming service.
While they often host large gatherings, funeral homes have been designated as essential businesses in West Virginia, and are able to remain open through the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Stay at Home order is in effect.
“We have been designated by Homeland Security that we count as emergency services,” said Spencer Ford, funeral director for Ford Funeral Home in Fairmont. “The state has not issued us to keep services private or anything as of yet.”
According to Ford, the company has hosted several funeral services since the novel coronavirus COVID-19 came to West Virginia, some public some private. Other funeral homes are staying open as well, because families still need of services to bury loved ones at this time.
“We haven’t gotten any word to close yet,” said Anthony Domico of Domico Funeral Home in Fairmont. “There is a service (today) that is private. I don’t think it’s because of the virus.”
Although funerals often involve large gatherings and physical contact in the form of hugs and kisses, Ford said he is advising families to be cautious about this, and is encouraging people to try to keep in small groups at services.
“As of now we’re bringing up the subject to each family that we meet and encouraging private services just to try to combat too many people getting together,” Ford said. “But if they want public, that’s what we will do as long as the state allows us to.”
Kevin Masters of Masters Funeral Home in Mannington also said the business would continue hosting services for those in need, but will also advise caution in planning as well.
Hutson Funeral Home, which is also in Mannington, has gone so far as to warn families via obituaries about the social distancing requirement ,”We respectfully request that your visits be brief, keep a safe distance, and no food or drinks in the funeral home,” stated a recent obituary.
Ford also said that the staff of the funeral home is using additional cleaning measures and are emphasizing social distancing to those who hold services in the home. He said the staff is making sure to clean surfaces that are commonly touched.
“We have enhanced our sanitation and we are addressing the commonly touched surfaces more often,” Ford said. “We encourage people who are calling to use their own discretion and we’re encouraging social distancing.”
Although services have carried on through the pandemic, Ford said he has noticed somewhat of a smaller pool of attendees at some viewings and funerals since last week. He also said that cemeteries are operating as usual, but he is telling his clients that they can have a larger service at the cemetery at a later date, once the coronavirus spread has fallen off.
“I would say yes we have noticed a drop off in attendance somewhat,” Ford said. “We’re putting more emphasis on online condolences. And we’re telling them they can have a public service down the road.”