CORONAVIRUS

Funeral visitations again allowed in Iowa

Friends and family may share grief only from afar

Cedar Memorial (submitted photo)
Cedar Memorial (submitted photo)

Funeral visitations are allowed again in Iowa as long as visitors don’t get too close to each other.

“We’ve talked about using stanchions to keep a perimeter for families to meet all requirements,” said Jeff Rosauer, manager and funeral director at Murdoch Funeral Homes, based in Cedar Rapids. “At a funeral home it’s difficult because people want to hug and get close.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds this week relaxed restrictions on social gatherings — including visitations — allowing more than 10 people to come together as long as there is 6 feet between each family group or people attending alone. Funeral homes also must keep capacity at 50 percent or less and increase hygiene practices to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, according to an email the Iowa Department of Public Health sent Tuesday to funeral home directors.

The announcement is welcome for funeral directors eager to offer more options to their customers. One Eastern Iowa family planning a funeral for next week chose to add a visitation under the new rules, Rosauer said.

“I would imagine there could be families that do choose to move forward with a visitation and a more normal type of funeral with the new requirements,” said Brad Kurtz, funeral director at Cedar Memorial, based in Cedar Rapids. “There’s still some people out there that are not ready to jump in with both feet on some of the public events, while others have more of a comfort level.”

Funeral home staff will need to figure out how many people can safely fit in visitation rooms while maintaining social distancing, Kurtz said. Because Cedar Memorial also has a reception center where large groups can gather for a meal after a funeral, it also has to follow rules established for reopening restaurants. These include limiting occupancy and banning buffet-style dining.

“We’ve been happy we’ve been getting guidelines from public health, but for the funeral business, like any business in Iowa, it continues to be challenging to navigate all these changes,” Kurtz said.

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Funeral proceedings in Iowa changed in March as the novel coronavirus became community spread in parts of Eastern Iowa. At that time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limited social gatherings to 50 people. That later tightened to 10 people.

Since then, funeral homes have livestreamed services and conducted visitations through services like Zoom, where friends and relatives can share condolences in a conference call setting.

There also have been small, family-only graveside services. Although many families have opted to postpone larger funerals, Kurtz doesn’t think that will result in a rush of services in the coming months.

“I don’t anticipate there being any kind of backlog,” he said. “We have been tracking that and making sure we are prepared.”

Grief counselors have advised funeral home directors to encourage families to not skip funerals altogether.

“Funerals are a rite of initiation,” Alan Wolfelt, an author, educator and grief counselor who is director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Colorado, told The Gazette in March. “As people attempt to not have ceremony, they inhibit their ability to turn grief into mourning. Mourning is a shared social response.” Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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