Nationwide, COVID-19 case numbers are on the decline, but the number of total deaths remains high. That disparity is behind a renewed push for funeral workers and embalmers to be prioritized for vaccination.
Funeral workers, who said they’ve been in contact with COVID-19 victims and their families at a far greater frequency than most of the public – want to know where they stand in Ohio’s vaccine rollout plan.
“If one of us gets sick, it’s a major issue,” Ohio Funeral Directors Association president Devin Woodyard said.
Woodyard is a fourth-generation funeral worker who has watched as his industry has been pushed to its limits.
“November and December, many funeral homes were experiencing, helping families that were double the amount of the previous year,” he said.
In January, WCPO spoke to a local funeral home director facing a similar scenario as morgues struggled to find space.
“We had close to over 200 cases in the month of December,” Greater Cincinnati Funeral Director’s Association president Herb Walker said.
Case numbers and hospitalizations have improved, but deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning numbers could stay high in the days and weeks to come as the long-term effects of the holiday spike play out. With the number of deaths nationwide recently passing the 500,000 mark, Woodyard said the risk to his staff and funeral workers around the state remains high.
"When you have family that's inside their own home, do they drop their guard a little bit and gather around that person without masks and then we're either coming into their home, going into a nursing home, going into 1A facilities, hospitals, all those places and taking people into our care and exposing our staff and ourselves," he said.
Woodyard said he believes the relatively small industry, approximately 4,000 people statewide, should be accommodated for the safety of those in the industry and those mourning a loss.
“As I can say, I’m concerned about contracting it from somebody, I’m awfully concerned about spreading to families, too,” he said.
The Ohio Funeral Director’s Association has reached out to Gov. Mike DeWine’s office and is holding out hope to be included in the next phase of vaccination.