As more coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths are reported in Delaware, funeral directors are taking precautions to protect themselves as they prepare bodies for viewing and burial.

One precaution is wearing N95 masks as well as gowns and goggles to protect eyes, noses and mouths, said Doug Melson, funeral director at Melson Funeral Services in Ocean View.

N95 masks protect from airborne particles and liquid that could contaminate one’s face, with the name referring to their ability to block at least 95 percent of very small particles, according to the Food and Drug Administration website.

An N95 respirator fits closely against the face and filters airborne particles. Edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth. The respirators are used in healthcare settings.

Stacey Hofmann of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services’ Joint Information Center, replying by e-mail to questions posed by Coastal Point, said the Division of Forensic Science has provided guidance to funeral directors and there is also guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.

“Nobody should consider touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19,” she stated.

“Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions are at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness. 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 cultural and religious leaders and funeral home staff on how to reduce their exposure as much as possible.

“At a minimum, people conducting these activities should wear disposable gloves. If splashing of fluids is expected, additional personal protective equipment may be required, such as disposable gown, face shield or goggles and face mask,” she said.

Also, because of restrictions necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Melson said only 10 people can gather for viewing and a funeral service. Groups of 10 can’t wait outdoors and trade places with each other, because of the possibility of spreading the virus, he said.

Melson said it isn’t recommended to delay a funeral and hold the body of the deceased until all family and friends can gather.

“There is no guarantee what the individual will look like if the body is held. By summer we hope to be back to allowing more people to gather,” he said.

If there were a sudden surge of funerals, Sussex County funeral directors would join forces to accommodate all of the families, Melson said.

“We’d all have to work together. We are hoping and praying it doesn’t come to that. Hopefully we will be spared,” he said.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.