Limits on public and private gatherings amidst the coronavirus pandemic are already beginning to alter some of the country’s most hallowed customs, like how we say goodbye.

After Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday that law enforcement may be called in to enforce a 10-person limit on gatherings, big funeral services are on hold, leading families and funeral homes to get creative.

In Manassas, Baker-Post Funeral Home & Cremation Services started taking advantage of new technology ahead of the current crisis. When co-owner Mike Post and his wife first built their building in 2008, they had it wired for live streaming capabilities. 

By 2010, camera equipment was installed and they were ready to take services live online. A hardware issue cropped up about two years ago, but when they saw the new limits on gatherings and growing travel restrictions, Post and his co-owners made sure to be ready for what was coming.

“I thought ‘You know what? I better get somebody in here that knows what they’re doing and get it up and running again,” Post said. “Because it can really benefit those families that can’t be here, can’t travel, whatever the case may be.”

On Saturday, Baker-Post is expecting to host a Sikh service with 15 to 20 people in attendance and others tuned in via a private live stream. Post said as of right now they’re capping services at 20 guests because their large chapel allows for ample social distancing. 

Further down the line, Post is hoping to replicate visitations and receptions with Zoom-like conferences.

In Herndon, the Adams-Green Funeral Home & Crematory is placing a lower cap on service capacities. According to Assistant Manager Bill Keatley, the hard and fast limit is 10. Keatley said the home typically handles between 45 and 50 funerals per month. And as the pandemic has spread, they’ve started to build their own streaming capabilities. 

“We are working on getting our camera in the chapel to be able to stream to a computer so people can have just immediate family here and we can stream to the public,” Keatley said. He hopes to have the camera installed by the weekend.

Conversations with families about limiting the size of services can be challenging, Post said. People imagine the kind of service they want and know they only have one chance to do it right, so having to change plans because of the pandemic isn’t always easy to swallow. 

As with many other industries, the funeral business has changed overnight since the pandemic took hold in the United States.

“It’s drastically altered how we plan, talk to families, conduct services,” Post said. “Most of the families now are understanding, but we’ve had a couple that are not. We say ‘Hey this is the guideline, but this is what we have to offer that can help alleviate this.’ … That’s kind of the way it has to be.”

According to a report by the National Funeral Directors Association, cremation rates in the United States have been increasing rapidly, having already overtaken burials. In 2019, the report says, cremations accounted for 54.8% of final dispositions in the U.S., while burials made up 39%. It’s possible, funeral directors say, that the coronavirus crisis could accelerate that trend.

Keatley and Post both said that some families are choosing to go ahead with immediate cremations and delaying memorial services.

“Some of them are saying, ‘Well, let’s cremate Mom now and have a service down the road,” Post said.

Others are holding small, private burials and bigger memorial gatherings once the restrictions on gatherings have been lifted, whenever that is.

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