Funeral home workers concerned bodies can transmit COVID-19

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When a state board that oversees funeral homes revealed that a local hospital refused to tell people picking up bodies whether the dead person had been infected with the novel coronavirus, it raised a lot of eyebrows.

And that's in part because many people didn't realize the virus could be transmitted after death.

"Anything expelled through the airways even soon after death could be potentially hazardous. Just like tuberculosis is," said Mark Blake the president of the North Carolina Board of Funeral Services.

Like many of us, funeral-home workers wear masks these days.

But Blake said they need to do much more than that when coming in contact with a body infected with COVID-19.

And, he said, they need to know before they arrive at the hospital, nursing home, or medical examiner's office.

"It is imperative that we use higher levels of protocol when we are engaging or interacting with a deceased person that has been diagnosed with this or suspected have been diagnosed with this," he said, It puts our folks at risk. And it puts their families at risk. It puts the other workers in the funeral homes at risk."

READ MORE: Dr. Cohen says COVID-19 trends in North Carolina are stabilizing,

Blake said that's why his agency was so upset when UNC Rex Hospital recently refused to tell funeral-home workers whether a body being picked up was infected.

UNC Rex said later that there was a miscommunication, but Blake is still concerned that the directive may have come from the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

"If their stance on this is to not disclose, we can see where healthcare facilities could say, 'Well, the North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner advises us not to disclose this, thus we are not going to do that,'" he said.

But a governor's spokesperson told ABC11 that the medical examiner's office has never instructed "any entity not to share" COVID-19 test results.

Blake said if that's the case, "We appreciate that but we also want to make sure that someone as high of office as the chief medical examiner has, that they would also take the position of disclosing this information."

The State Commission for Public Health already has a rule requiring disclosure if a body has one of several different infections including things like smallpox, HIV, and SARS.

Blake said the funeral board wants the rule amended, "To add COVID-19 because there's never been anything in my lifetime that has affected us as this has."

He said he hopes that the amendment will come soon.
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