Well, here we are entering Week 8 since shelter-in-place and stay-at-home policies were implemented around the country. As many of you read in Friday’s update by Ron Gies, over 60,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. This is tragic and we are still likely only seeing half of the impact in our cemeteries as many families choose to delay funeral services and interment in the cemeteries.
Most times, my messages have tried to put our situation into the context of where we were before the pandemic and what it must be like for each of you as you deal with the impact of the pandemic on your work and on your home life. I’ve also tried to insert some humor and spiritual reflection along the way. My last message last week pointed out that most of us have been “in a fog” as we were seeking clarity as to where we are headed next. Inevitably we all have some anxiety about what is changing.
Going forward over the next two weeks, I want to start discussing the difficult steps of “opening up”, which has been the simple term to going back out into a world with lighter restrictions. I want to start by saying that this is going to be the hardest part of the pandemic. For CFCS, we are going to take a staged or phased approach to this. In simple terms, I want to share today our priorities:
The protocol as explained below is expected to be implemented in the coming weeks and remain in place until May 31st at which time we will revise our guidelines as appropriate.
- Employee Safety: This is our first priority. Without this, we cannot function and we certainly can’t care for families. The good news is that we made this our first priority at the outset of the pandemic, and you are not going to feel like we have stripped away any of the PPE that you may be accustomed to using at work. A very important point of clarity is that we will follow the CDC guidelines for PPE and local and state health departments for regulations regarding all of our funeral and cemetery services. I won’t go into all of the safety protocol as this is going to be introduced by your Director in greater detail. What I do want to reinforce is that we will have a “Culture of Safety” which we want to communicate to you and to families, funeral directors, priests, and all visitors.
An example of the “Culture of Safety” is that we are going to require all staff to wear facemasks at work, with some rules as to where it is appropriate to remove your facemask during your workday. At times you may feel that this facemask policy should not be required, but we want to communicate to all families and visitors, that we are protecting them. Each of you is the first line of defense, and wearing a facemask tells our families and visitors that we take their health seriously.
One thing I want everyone to be aware of is that the public often view cemeteries as a place of death and disease. Entering a cemetery during a pandemic can be emotionally overwhelming to visitors. Please keep this in mind, as staff can often forget the fear and anxiety that people carry with them. Wearing a mask is a simple outward sign that we care.
In addition, in our enclosed offices, buildings, and at graveside services we will also require that families and visitors wear facemasks. Again, this requirement is to indicate to families that we expect them to respect your health and those that are around them. We will provide the facemasks and ask funeral directors to do the same. We will continue with social distancing standards. In cases where visitors to the grounds of the cemeteries are not coming in contact with our staff, the facemask policy is recommended but will not be mandatory.
Our priority is to create a controlled interaction with families when they come in contact with you.
- Controlled Office and Enclosed Buildings: We have decided to implement a “Controlled Environment” policy for all family meetings and visitations inside of building that we operate. Each cemetery location has some unique challenges, so again I will leave it to your Director to give you more detail and specifics. What I want to say here is that our top priority is to create a work environment wherein the staff is able to control the number of people that they are in contact with at any given time, and that we have control of visitor access in enclosed buildings. Social distancing should still be observed by staff and families.
One simple way of understanding this “opening up”, is that we will invite families to our offices and enclosed buildings on an appointment basis. While this may sound like families could be turned away, it in fact allows us to still make immediate appointments with families who knock on an office door or wait in a line outside. It is under our control to do this rather than leave it to chance. We can also stage an employee with appropriate PPE outside of an office or on the grounds as another way to deal with unanticipated visitors. We will use the door of a building as the dividing line to be controlled by the staff. What we are creating is an environment where our staff can keep meeting areas clean and sanitized, while avoid the problems that come with an influx of unexpected visitors.
I realize that there will be questions about these two priorities. I believe we need to communicate this numerous times to each of you, communicate it to our visitors in a variety of ways, and then communicate it again. We also want to empower you with the reasoning behind these policies. We will only be effective when every employee can communicate the policies and the reasons that they exist.
We all know too well that families are suffering loss during this time and making sense of our policies can be difficult. People will remember how they were treated, not just what you said. It is important to take the time to explain the reason behind the policies, because that can be the difference for a family.
I realize that anxiety is not always logical. Anxiety is a clear indicator of the fear and confusion that can occur when people do not feel safe. Even when we have all of the safety protocols in place I expect that there will still be some anxiety present for some of you. This is where we need to talk things out, share factual information, and continue to practice the guidelines in our work.
I want to use this opportunity to point out to everyone how well we have done through these last 49 days. It is remarkable that we have been able to serve over one thousand families in this time. I am happy to report that we have not had an on the job employee diagnosed with the coronavirus. I believe that this is a direct result of the commitment of all of you to following the guidelines, even when you have witnessed families, funeral directors, and others who have not followed the guidelines. These guidelines we are putting in place are designed specifically to reduce our vulnerability when others fail to be diligent.
We will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit is present in our work and for God’s protection during this time.
With blessings and gratitude,