Local businesses, including retail and restaurants, are not the only ones who have had to make changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funeral home industry has also had to change the way they do business. The virus is prompting funeral homes to rethink how they handle bodies and how they officiate services.

Roller Funeral Home Manager Blake Schluterman said that he began having Zoom meetings with the 30 Roller Funeral Homes locations across the state of Arkansas to organize a plan of action to prepare for the worst.

“We knew what we were told could happen, whether it would or not, so we had to be prepared for the worst.”

Schluterman said Roller’s biggest concern was making sure they had enough PPE. Even though they are generally stocked with enough to last a while regularly, a virus outbreak could deplete their stock very fast. Extra measures are being used to prevent the spread of bacteria in their establishment, including the use of technology to bring large groups together, to help people deal with the loss of a loved one while reducing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“So far, we have not seen any deaths by the virus, but there are risks involved [for us] if we do because germs can live on surfaces outside the body for a certain amount of time, but our main concern is exposure to families who are celebrating loved ones.”

Following recommendations against gatherings of ten or more people, Roller Funeral Home is only offering small chapel services for loved ones of the deceased and following instructions from both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and trade organizations, the funeral home is taking extra steps to clean and sanitize their establishment between each service. Roller is also offering graveside services that practice social distancing and Facebook Live services so that loved ones who can not be in attendance can live stream the services in their homes.

“With following the governor’s recommendations on church services, we have not performed any funerals inside churches during this time, but if a family requested it and had less than ten members in attendance, we would hold the service at a church.”

The funeral home also said they are reminding families they can plan memorial service to be held at a later date free of charge, for anyone who has had to have a private ceremony due to COVID-19.

Although Brotherton Brothers Funeral Home has yet to experience a funeral for one who was diagnosed with COVID-19, the staff members are prepared, said Matt Brotherton and the home will take the same care and precautions that are taken during every other service.

“It is our understanding that small gatherings — 10 people or less — can still have a service,” Brotherton said. “We would always encourage them to social distance. We have room in our chapel where this could take place.”

Brotherton also stated that graveside services allow for easier social distancing, but they follow the directives given by the state and federal leadership.

“One way to allow people to have some closure with the deceased is to offer viewing where people are coming and going in at different times. This will allow people to sign the book, and say their goodbyes in person.”

Many of the funerals handled by Brotherton Brothers Funeral Home since the COVID-19 outbreak started have involved cremation, with a memorial service to be determined and held at a later date, Brotherton said.

“I don’t know if scared is the right term; maybe cautions,” he said when describing the COVID-19 concerns of families. “Anytime there is a loss of a loved one, families have so much to deal with, whether financial, emotional, or just the loss. The uncertainty of this virus causes everyone to be more cautious, and this time is stressful for everyone.”

“We are not overly concerned, but we want to be respectful and cautious,” he said. “We are confident that this will be controlled, but we have no way of knowing when that will be. We want people to know that we are here and available to help them and their families navigate through this difficult time, whether it is today or in the future.”

Some information for this article was obtained from a recent Times Record article.