COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Federal Government classify funerals as non-essential or essential gatherings?
In the absence of a specific statement from Government, we are proceeding as an essential service in the areas of transfers, burials and cremations. From the point of view of funeral services, we are in the hands of the State and Federal Government social distancing and gathering requirements.
Is there a clear definition for non-essential gatherings?
There is no clear definition except that by default it includes all gatherings in a public or private place.
Does the 100-limit set by the Government include funeral services? Will a funeral home be fined by the Government if there are more than 100 at a funeral? How can we control this?
Yes, it includes funeral services and a funeral home will be fined by the Government. It is up to each business to ensure that Government regulations of no more than 100 people gather in an indoor space either by limiting the service to immediate family only or by counting the number entering the indoor space. New limits on a gathering include the social distancing requirement of one person per 2 square metres which means a 100 square metre room carries a 50-person limit. So even a venue which can usually accommodate 100 guests may be limited to less if the space between guests is taken into account. In regards to 100 people – it is per each confined indoor space. A group of mourners may be split between a condolence lounge and chapel for example.
Is it an outright ban or recommendation? Will there be ramifications of breaking the ban of no more than 100 at gatherings?
We are not aware of any outright gathering bans apart from what has been published by the Federal Government. There are substantial fines applicable to those businesses who do not comply with restrictions of 100 at indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to $55,000.
Is the AFDA suggesting all funeral homes in Australia follow the guidelines suggested by the USA NFDA? Specifically, the limit on funeral attendees being set at 50?
In Australia the Government has set a limit of 100 persons attending an indoor gathering and a social distancing requirement to have one person per 2 square metres so this may dramatically reduce a funeral director's ability to seat 100 persons, i.e. an indoor a room that is a 100 square metres can only fit 50 people.
Do social distancing guidelines allow for family members to sit together when attending a funeral service and are we able to set up chairs to allow for this?
The indoor gathering of not more than 100 persons clearly says that all present must have a seating distance of 1.5 metres apart. This includes couples. What happens after the funeral in terms of people talking to one another and moving around would be very difficult, if not impossible to control.
How do we to control the numbers if over 100 attend? How are we going to be protected when we say no more attendees permitted inside the venue of the funeral being conducted?
You need to inform the family of the 100-attendee limit and the social distancing requirement of one
person per 2 square metres and include this in all funeral notices. A sign at reception and outside the venue will assist as well as a comprehensive explanation on your website. The more communication you provide the better to reassure families and the public that you are conducting your business responsibly and safely for all concerned. Failing to comply with this Federal Government directive may result in a $55,000 fine.
Can we still have funerals in Churches with over 100?
No. Churches have the same indoor gathering restrictions of one person per 2 square metre rule and no more than 100 attendees.
Are we to consider private family only attendance ceremonies?
Yes, you should as you need to protect your staff and your families and it is a way of minimising the risk. The less people in a gathering reduces the risk to those gathered, and staff. Vulnerable people (elderly, infirm, those immune-compromised) should be advised not to attend.
Is there a particular plan we should follow for signing In Memorium Books?
Pens will transfer the virus so a hand sanitiser is essential.
Use of a laptop/tablet to record comments and as a register, which must be sanitised between each use.
We suggest using disposable pens although this may be costly.
Ensure staff are aware of hand hygiene prior to and immediately after distributing and collecting printed materials, pens etc.
If a member of our small team becomes infected does everyone else have to self-Isolate? Are there any recommendations for staffing and the rostering of staff? Are funeral companies splitting teams to reduce this from happening?
Your staff will need to self-isolate if they think they have been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19, and are showing symptoms of the virus as it can take up to two weeks for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear — although most commonly they show after five days. Staff must report to their local GP to be tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate if they test positive for the virus. Some larger firms are splitting their workforce into teams to minimize this risk. Anyone with any sign of fever/cold/influenza-type symptoms should be directed to not come into work for 14 days.
What are defined as the parameters of ‘close’ and/or ‘casual contact’?
You are a casual contact if:
You have had less than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact in any setting with a confirmed case in the 24 hours period before the onset of their symptoms; or
You have shared a closed space with a confirmed case for less than two hours in the 24hours period before the onset of their symptoms.
Casual contacts do not need to be excluded from work or school while well. You must closely monitor your health and if you experience any symptoms you are advised to isolate yourself and contact your usual doctor, who will liaise with public health authorities to care for you. Public health authorities may need to get in touch with you for contact tracing purposes.
If a staff member tests positive to COVD-19 can they wear PPE and still complete hospital pickups?
No, they cannot, they must immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.
If staff member contracts COVID-19 and they must self-isolate at home, is it correct to assume that it is like a normal sick leave situation as if they had contracted other types of influenza?
Yes, they would have to produce evidence of contracting the virus. If they are not sick and are merely self-isolating as a precaution then sick leave is not applicable. They can take annual or long service leave or the employer can make it paid leave.
If we ALL become infected and have to self-isolate what happens for the community with transfers? What happens to the current bodies we are holding at that time?
Then you will have to close your business and conduct business / arrange funerals from home and you will have to delay the funeral for a minimum of 14 days. You will have to arrange for a 3rd party to conduct the transfer.
Doctors come onto our site for the cremation application process and view the deceased. Will this remain part of the process for a second doctor needing to view the deceased?
There is no change to the current process in each State.
How can a transfer crew enter a private residence safely to complete a transfer if occupants are currently self-isolating?
Use of full PPE including a face mask, double gloves, protective clothing, etc. Request that residents self-isolating keep their distance from the deceased and those doing the transfer. Double bag the body and label it correctly which is Confirmed or Suspected Case - COVID-19 - Handle with Care. Clean and disinfect all equipment.
Has pathology confirmed if COVID-19 dies internally within 20 minutes of someone passing?
No, they have not and there is no scientific advice as to when the virus is dead however it is acknowledged that the risk is nearly total minimised if the body is refrigerated for 48 hours before any body preparation or opening of the body bag commences. Extensive PPE requirements are still advised though, including disposable gown, gloves, sleeves, face-mask and shield. Body preparation in clothing worn outside the mortuary is advised against, and limited access to mortuary and body preparation areas is advised.
Can we still have viewings?
Body preparation and viewings are still possible. A deceased person that has been embalmed and disinfected to the required standard greatly reduces any possible risk to funeral staff and or family members. Families must be told not to touch or kiss the deceased.
How long does the virus stay active on the deceased's clothing and/or jewellery?
While the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that fabric doesn’t hold onto the virus as long, clothes still can be exposed to the virus – as to the length of time it is not known as it depends on the fabric construction.
Can you tell me the infection times in regard to surfaces?
The NIH compared the lifespan of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on different types of surfaces and found that it could last up to three days on stainless steel and plastic – common materials used in toys, door handles, and everyday appliances.
In general, nonporous surfaces like plastics and metals can allow the virus to live for longer periods, so it's important to disinfect high-touch areas like tabletops and kitchen counters at least once a day.
With persons that die at a hospital will they be bagged by the hospital…no exceptions?
If the person is tested and is a confirmed or suspected case they will be.
Is there likely to be a direction from the Government to cremate?
No there has been no mention of this at this stage however It may happen if the death rate reaches a very high level. From a public health policy there has been advice that either burial or cremation is acceptable at this stage.
When will there be access to more protective equipment?
At this stage, there is a severe shortage of all PPE in Australia. AFDA is lobbying the government for the funeral industry to be granted essential service status. This may assist in sourcing PPE equipment from government suppliers.
Can we have guidelines around funeral service particularly around transfers and body?
This is all detailed in the AFDA Infection Control Guidelines which is in the Member's Area of the AFDA website.
As the recommendations are changing daily, can AFDA provide a list in point form/guidelines that we can give to our client families that is easy to understand and show that these decisions that have been made have not been made by the funeral director but the Federal Government Department of Health?
Each funeral director's business is different and already many have developed their own guidelines to hand out to families. We will provide a page which assists with social distancing requirements and gatherings. Government is working on a set of guidelines which we expect to receive this week.