WV funeral homes stressed, but not overwhelmed by increasing COVID deaths

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even though COVID-19 related deaths continue to increase in West Virginia, funeral home directors say they’re not overwhelmed like they were at the start of the pandemic.

Rob Kimes

Rob Kimes, executive director of the West Virginia Funeral Directors and Crematory Operators Association, told MetroNews he has not received any calls saying funeral homes are strained with capacity issues like Florida and other states.

West Virginia had 3,056 deaths including 69 breakthrough deaths as of Friday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. This comes as the Delta variant causes a new surge of cases.

Kimes said they had about 2,700 more deaths from 2019-2020 and much of those were related to the virus.

“Each year you have an increase because of the baby boomer generation, but probably half of that number of 2,700 will be directed more toward the pandemic side,” he said.

Funeral directors initially dealt with an increase in cremations, Asian funerals, and virtual services due to social distancing requirements, but have since transitioned back to normal operations on funeral services.

Kimes said they are prepared for a surge of deaths if extra space is needed.

“If something like that happens, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner got refrigerated mobile trailers that can be moved to areas should that occur,” he said.

In Florida, bodies are stacked toward the ceiling as COVID cases continue to skyrocket there according to WPTV in West Palm Beach. Many families in that state are being told they need to delay funeral services because schedules are full and there are too many people to bury.

Kimes said while funeral staff in West Virginia are not swamped, the length of the pandemic has been heartbreaking and stressful.

“When you have constant death after death, more work will be assigned to those funeral directors. The work load is weighing heavy on some of them,” he said.

In early 2020, Kimes said the state’s death certificate system was overwhelmed, causing concern for family finances.

“That has a domino effect of individuals being able to take care of personal things such as a husband passing away and having resources. In financial situations, a lot of that requires death certificates,” he said.

There were a total of 43 new deaths in a seven-day period ending Thursday, which averages out to about six deaths per day. Just a few weeks ago, the average was two deaths per day.

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