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As virus spreads, some local funerals shift online

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CREEDMOOR — Saying goodbye to a loved one is never an easy thing to do. In the COVID-19 era of social distancing, coming together to grieve a death is now all the more difficult.

“We are experiencing a significant change, but we are doing everything possible to work out accommodations wherever possible,” said Daniel Kuhn, funeral director of Gentry-Newell & Vaughan Funeral Home in Oxford. “I made funeral arrangements entirely over the phone and internet with a family. We will be hosting our first ever livestreamed service.”

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Monday banning gatherings of 50 or more people. An earlier order limited gatherings to 100 people.

President Donald Trump has indicated gatherings of 10 or more be postponed or canceled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Health officials are urging citizens to practice social distancing by staying home and staying at least 6 feet away from others.

“It’s a new world out there and traditionally funeral service has been slow to accept change,” Kuhn said. “Today, we are being forced to change. But to be honest, we are just going to move forward and continue to serve every family to the absolute best of our ability.”

Kuhn said it may be difficult to make the changes, “but in the end we are learning new ways to meet individual needs.”

Others in the funeral industry are urging precautions as well. The National Funeral Directors Association recommends holding smaller gatherings with immediate family while postponing larger services. It also suggests broadcasting funerals online so people can watch from home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s generally safe to attend a small funeral for a person who died of a coronavirus infection. The agency recommends additional precautions for those who may handle the body of someone with an infection.

“People wanted to pay their respects at a recent graveside service,” said Debra Thomerson of Eakes Funeral Home in Oxford. “Some donned gloves and masks, while others kept their distance. We did have some people come in and sign the book instead of being around a crowd of people,” she said.

Paying tribute

Some people may opt to send cards, flowers or plants instead of attending a service during the COVID-19 crisis. Local florists are prepared to answer the call.

Nicole Gordon, owner of Gil-Man Florist in Creedmoor, recently waived delivery fees for local orders and will be expanding to curbside pickup within the next couple of days.

“We want to make sure we are there for our customers and community,” Gordon said. “We are practicing social distancing and are keeping everything thoroughly sanitized.”

As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow in North Carolina, florists may see fewer of the types of events they service — not just funerals, but also weddings, high school proms and graduations.

Ann Calus, owner of Annie’s Flowers in Oxford, is hopeful that the outbreak will have a minor impact on her sales.

“Business was slow at the first part of the week, but we started a curbside service and things have picked up quite a bit,” said Calus this week. “I guess people decided that flowers would help brighten up the day.”

Kuhn, the funeral director, said while industries may feel the effects of coronavirus, he hopes that won’t include health effects.

“Our greatest hope in all of this is just that as many people stay as safe as possible,” Kuhn said. “This includes our community, the families we serve, my staff, and the families that we have at home waiting for us to return to them each night both healthy and safe.

“It’s more than a little bit scary that I could be going out and helping others while at the same time bringing this virus home to my wife and small children. So with this in mind, I am happy to adapt to all the changes and safety precautions that are being instituted.”