New Orleans Launches ‘Death Care Task Force’ To Tackle Coronavirus Burials

'The COVID-19 outbreak has created a tragedy within a tragedy,' said the city's mayor.

cabinets in a morgue
P. J. L. Laurens / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 Cropped and Resized)

'The COVID-19 outbreak has created a tragedy within a tragedy,' said the city's mayor.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has announced the creation of a “Death Care Task Force” to help the city and the surrounding area deal with the surge of dead bodies due to the coronavirus pandemic, The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

Louisiana and, particularly its most populous city, New Orleans are being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Cantrell points out, the tragedy has itself spurned another tragedy within itself: the matter of dead bodies being improperly cared for. Further, because of social distancing guidelines, the loved ones of the victims often can’t attend the funerals.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has created a tragedy within a tragedy: Compromising the way our residents prepare their deceased love ones to be laid to rest, and share in their grief the way we’re accustomed to. And it won’t get any easier,” she said.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 07: Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks on stage at 2019 ESSENCE Festival Presented By Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 07, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)
  Paras Griffin / Getty Images for ESSENCE

Specifically, the task force consists of funeral home directors, coroners, cemetery directors, hospital officials, faith-based leaders, and other individuals with an investment in how the bodies of the deceased are handled.

Those guidelines state, for example, that persons handling the bodies of COVID-19 victims must wear full-body protective equipment, including eye protection, an N95 face mask, and double surgical gloves. The bodies must be wiped down with antiseptic solution and remains must be transported in bags whenever they’re being moved.

ALTKIRCH, FRANCE - 28 MARCH 2020: (EDITORS NOTE: Image depicts death.) An undertaker pulls a sheet over the body of a man who died from COVID-19 the night before March 28, 2020 at Saint Morand hospital in Altkirch, France. Police are there to seal the coffin to avoid contamination because the body may still be contagious. The body was additionally placed in a sealed plastic bag. In the morgue there are nine bodies awaiting retrieval, eight of which were victims of COVID-19. The country has over 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,000 deaths, and its government has imposed a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the virus. (Photo by Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)
  Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

Dr. Gerry Cvitanovitch, the Jefferson Parish coroner, said that some New Orleans-area funeral homes were reluctant to process the bodies of victims of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

He also noted that he had to rent a refrigerated truck, such as those that are being used as ersatz morgues in New York City, according to The Inquisitr, in order to temporarily store bodies because some funeral home operators are hesitant to process those bodies.

Cvitanovitch was also clear that some families, reluctant to have their loved ones’ funerals livestreamed due to social distancing, have been hoping to have the bodies stored at morgues or funeral homes until the pandemic is over. That’s not possible, he says.

“Families should understand that funeral homes cannot house deceased persons for extended periods of time awaiting the end of this pandemic,” according to guidelines from the mayor’s office, noting that the bodies should be interred within three to five days of death.

Meanwhile, it looks as if, for now anyway, New Orleans and surrounding communities will have enough space in their morgues and funeral homes to handle the expected surge of bodies.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 582 people had died in Louisiana from the pandemic, including 185 in New Orleans and 137 in Jefferson Parish.