Funeral workers provide critical service but are at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus

Funeral workers provide critical service but are at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus

The National Funeral Directors Association has asked President Donald Trump and Congress to designate death care workers as “essential critical infrastructure workers” as the coronavirus claims the lives of more and more Americans.

“Deathcare plays a vital if often overlooked, part of the public health of our nation,” Christine Pepper, the group’s CEO, wrote in a letter dated March 20. “During a pandemic, such as COVID-19, or any mass-fatality disaster, deathcare represents a critical part of the public/private partnership that will help our nation heal and recover.”

So the group is seeking access to more personal protective equipment, exemptions from quarantine rules, and to be placed on a priority list for testing “and a vaccine when it becomes available.”

Pepper, whose organization represents more than 200,000 funeral home workers, said they face a “high risk of exposure.” She said there is precedent for this: In 2009 when faced with the H1N1 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed “mortuary service providers” as critical workers.

“On behalf of our members and the more than 200,000 deathcare professionals in the United States, we are grateful for your leadership and stand ready, as always, to care for the dead and the families left behind. You and the entire nation are in our prayers,” Pepper concluded in her letter to Trump.

Jessica Koth, a spokesperson for the organization, told NBC News Tuesday that they had not yet received a response from the president or Congress but said the group is also working with state-based associations to urge governors to act. “Those efforts are proving fruitful, with many states designating funeral professionals among critical infrastructure workers,” she said.

The association also released CDC approved guidelines for its members aimed at protecting mortuary workers from catching the virus and for handling funerals during a pandemic.