ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The I-Team Coronavirus Help Desk continues to search for answers to your questions about COVID-19.
One viewer wrote to News 13 asking, "When people die from COVID-19 are they still contagious? At a funeral with an open casket, can people still get the coronavirus from touching the body and what is the proper burial procedure?"
News 13 reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Funeral Directors Association for guidance on this question.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said COVID-19 is a new disease and “we are still learning how it spreads.”
“There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19," the CDC said.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to mainly spread from close contact (i.e., within about 6 feet) with a person who is sick with COVID-19. The virus likely spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory infections spread. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. This type of spread is not a concern after death.
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
“People should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19. Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions are at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness," the CDC said. "There may be less of a chance of the virus spreading from certain types of touching, such as holding the hand or hugging after the body has been prepared for viewing. Other activities, such as kissing, washing and shrouding should be avoided before, during and after the body has been prepared, if possible. If washing the body or shrouding are important religious or cultural practices, families are encouraged to work with their community’s cultural and religious leaders and funeral home staff on how to reduce their exposure as much as possible.”
Families are free to chose whether they want their loved one buried or cremated.
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News 13 also reached out to the National Funeral Directors Association.
NFDA strongly recommends that, until further notice, funerals be limited to no more than 10 of the decedent’s next-of-kin; this does not include funeral home staff, the clergy/celebrant or cemetery staff. NFDA also recommends that services be held at the gravesite whenever possible. However, depending on the options selected by a family, such as cremation, that may mean a service in the funeral home is more appropriate. NFDA is encouraging members to promote social distancing by setting up seating accordingly.
North Carolina has placed some restriction on gathering, and funerals specifically, limiting the number in gatherings to fewer than 50 as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. Health officials said after recent COVID-19 outbreaks tied to several funerals in Georgia, social distancing is paramount.
You can submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. News 13's Jennifer Emert, Lauren Brigman and Karen Zatkulak will work to get an answer for you.