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New 72-hour limit for disposing of COVID-19 bodies

Acting Director of Medical Services Dr. Tyhiesia Donald - only two (2) persons will be allowed to view the body for identification under new funeral guidelines

Burials and cremations from deaths due to the coronavirus, are now mandated to take place “within 72 hours of the certification of death,” according to Acting Director of Medical Services within the Ministry of Health, Dr. Tyhiesia Donald.

Speaking at a press conference called by the Ministry of Health on Monday, Dr. Donald said that this move is part of new funeral guidelines being adopted following a meeting with stakeholders last week Saturday to manage the increasing number of COVID-19 deaths on the island since the spike was detected in August, and to prevent transmission of the disease among those involved in funeral services in going forward.

The senior official in the Ministry of Health announced several new guidelines that were agreed upon in the meeting which was expected to come into effect Wednesday as she read from a joint statement issued by the funeral agencies, members of the religious community, and the Government of Grenada.

She said that although the “law states that bodies of an infectious nature should be buried forthwith” out of “compassion (and) respect” for the dead and loved ones a decision was taken “to extend it to give persons a little more time to grieve and to bury their loved ones” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Donald disclosed that funerals will remain between the hours of 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. but said that in instances “where there are more bodies to be buried in a given day that can’t be realistically done within these hours, permission can be sought from the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) to extend the time no later than 2 p.m.”

The senior health official said that only “two (2) persons will be allowed to view the body at the funeral home for identification purposes only” after which “the coffin or casket will be permanently sealed and the body will be taken to the cemetery (for burial).”

Dr. Donald stated that “persons dying from COVID-19 infection will not be embalmed, graves would be dug to a depth no fewer than six (6) feet, families will have the option to cremate or bury, (and that) accommodations will be made for religious bodies requiring special rites in the preparation of bodies for burial.”

According to the Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Myanna Charles, as of Tuesday, the cumulative COVID-19 deaths on the island stood at 63.

This figure differs significantly with those in possession of local funeral agencies.

At a meeting held last week with government officials including Health Minister Nickolas Steele, when the death figure on the Government Dashboard was 46, La Qua Funeral Home informed the session that he was holding 42 Covid-19 bodies in a refrigerated container and Bailey’s Funeral Home put their figure at between 20 to 23 bodies.

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These figures did not include the amount of persons who were already buried or cremated by the Funeral agencies on the island.

In an apparent attempt to control the figures, the Authorities has instructed funeral agencies not to release figures of Covid-19 bodies but to allow them to do so.

Clinton Bailey of Bailey’s Funeral Home on The Carenage, who represented the island’s three (3) funeral agencies at the press conference on Monday sought to give assurances that the three (3) funeral agencies on the island have the capacity “to handle whatever (COVID-19 deaths) come to us.”

“We are all in a good place now for storage, myself, La Qua (Brothers Funeral Home, which is located on Cemetery Hill, St. George’s), and Wayne (Wayne’s Funeral Services, Griffin Lane, Grenville, St. Andrew).

“La Qua had to bring in a refrigerated container, which is necessary, I brought in one (1), which is necessary, and Wayne told me today that he is up and running with capacity.

Bailey also spoke to how COVID-19 deaths, as well as non-COVID deaths that occur at homes will be handled.

He said that once a COVID-19 death is confirmed, staff members “dressed in PPEs” (will) adhere to the protocols of handling the body in a dignified manner, the body is then (removed from the home), brought to the funeral home, and placed in the refrigerator until arrangements are made for the burial, which is now 72 hours.”

He explained that “everybody (each death) is (now) being looked at as an infectious case” noting that “someone could die at home not having any symptoms of COVID and can still have it when we get there.”

“We are going to be a little more careful with regular cases… just for protection because the funeral homes of Grenada are in the frontline, and we need to protect ourselves, we have families and we have staff,” he said.

Bailey, who also pointed out that COVID-19 bodies will be placed in a sealed bag before being placed in the coffin, which will be followed by “a dignified Christian burial as per the outlines,” which is the printed document outlining the key points in the funeral or memorial service.

Speculation is rife that Grenada’s Covid-19 death toll is hovering around the 100 mark since the deadly virus was first detected on the island in March 2020.

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