OT: Handling of infected dead people for burial or cremation

I apologize for this being a non-paddling topic. Also, no disrespect is intended.

A morbid question popped up in my mind today. Will professionals who process the dead bodies use a standard procedure for working with them, or does this pathogen require a different protocol? And come to think of it, how DO morticians deal with the bodies of those who died from any infectious disease that might pose a threat to their own health?

My question arose due to the possibility of this new virus possibly requiring more than the standard precautions with any infectious body. Then it occurred to me that maybe there is no standard procedure at all, across the industry.

From Italy:
Hospitals have adopted more stringent rules regarding the handling of the dead, who need to be placed in a coffin straight away without being clothed due to the risk of infection posed by their bodies. “Families can’t see their loved ones or give them a proper funeral. This is a big problem on a psychological level,” said Ricciardi. “But also because many of our staff are ill, we don’t have as many people to transport and prepare the bodies.”

Bergamo in northern Italy is the epicenter of the Italy C-19. Southern regions are less affected. So the rush on the funeral homes is not uniform.

I’m sure PPE is standard.

Most pathogens that thrive in humans have a narrow range of heat tolerance. It seems to me that the virus would die shortly after the host. Social distancing makes sense.

My 95-year old dad died in 2017. That year’s flu got him.

Dad had arranged for his body to be donated to the state for medical research or training. The state refused his body stating that it remained highly contagious and was a hazard to anyone working with it.

A local undertaker picked up the body from the hospital and cremated it. I’m unaware of what protective steps they may have taken to avoid infection. One supposes some sort of bag or wrap may have been used, but I just don’t know.

My point in posting is that the flu virus does not dissipate after the patient’s demise. I doubt Covid quickly dissipates either. It survives for weeks on a flat surface, so it doesn’t need to stay at body temperature.

This might be a good time for a link…

no, they don’t say anything about dead bodies.

But these guys do… Covid 19 might not be but look at the others.
“Workers who routinely handle corpses may, however, risk contracting tuberculosis, bloodborne viruses (eg hepatitis B and C and HIV) and gastrointestinal infections (e.g. cholera, E. coli, hepatitis A, rotavirus diarrhoea, salmonellosis, shigellosis and typhoid/paratyphoid fevers),” said the guideline."


Note to self. Don’t handle the dear departed.

I haven’t seen times anywhere near that long. According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine , SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can live in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days. The study found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and 4 hours on copper. It is also detectable in the air for three hours.

These are also the published times by the Harvard Medical School and the linked WebMD article.

Thanks for the helpful comments and links.

I have no intention of handling corpses but it dawned on me that some workers who do must be anxious about whether or not this is “business as usual”. I suppose it is too new a virus to really be sure, and who’d want to find out the hard way anyhow!

" ‘Contrary to common belief, there is no evidence that corpses pose a risk of epidemic disease after a natural disaster. Most agents do not survive long in the human body after death,’ according to the World Health Organization."

“Nevertheless, ‘For a coronavirus death we will be going beyond our standard universal precautions and using extra protective gear,’ said Van Orsdel.”


Thanks for the improved info, Ptickner. I passed on an estimate of virus survival time that was either old or just wrong. Sorry, and happy to be corrected.


One day in this kitchen,
cardboard counter’s no longer bitchin’,
but I sink the stainless steel
needs one more to find a peel,
and takes two more to feel less drastic,
with what’s a stir on spoon of plastic,
perhaps our spirits would lift as shopper
if we could get goods past four copper.
Just wish Covid Kid all of nineteen,
in sub-four would split social distant scene,
before an eternal in finality,
can’t spare minute undertaking me.

Maybe just stuff them into an old kayak, light it up and shove it out to sea. Viking style.

What do you mean, “insensitive”?

In a snippet of radio interview I heard about 10 days ago, one medical person (sorry I can’t remember exactly what he was) said that the virus is “heavier” than that of measles. It does not remain suspended in the air for more than a couple of hours, whereas with measles breathing the air where someone sneezed could still be a means of transmission a day later.

I routinely try to get farther away from a sneezer or cougher in general, not being fond of flu or colds or bronchitis or pneumonia, either.

The big diff with COVID-19 is that people with no symptoms can still spread it to other people.

Here’s a good article explaining the difference between the two: https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/16/coronavirus-can-become-aerosol-doesnt-mean-doomed/

My personal attitude is that everyone I see is a carrier, so I take extra precautions.

I wonder how this would have been handled 60 years ago? We were dealing with measles , chicken pox, and whooping cough among others. I seriously doubt the current level of activity was ever met.
Of course, there was no internet and politicians may have attempted to help instead of pandering.


1 Like

I knew I had seen articles on this. Just went looking around and got some of what I had seen.

First thing is that when you are talking funeral homes, you need to account for how many deceased are being embalmed, just put into the coffin w/o or being cremated… Trends had been moving towards a higher rate of cremations than a few decades ago before the virus, the combination of no traditional viewings and in some areas overwhelmed funeral homes has pushed that higher…

The risks that are being talked about are significantly higher for embalming than either of the other two. Quote from an article I found. "… At the funeral home, with bodies that require embalming, directors have to grapple with new risks. “You can have discharge from the lungs when you move the body,” says Kearns. Moisture coming up through the airway is one possibility. Another is a purge that, according to a Funeral Service Academy handbook, looks like coffee grounds seeping up from the lungs or stomach, trickling out through the mouth and nose. It’s typically brown, but when it comes from the lungs, it can take on a frothy consistency with a copper tint. In either case, the threat of infection is more than hypothetical, as researchers in Thailand recently reported the first COVID-19 transmission from a dead to living host.

To mitigate the risk, the staff is following precautionary protocols established to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. They’re wearing N95 masks, plus Tyvek suits or aprons. Manufactured by DuPont, Tyvek is made from high-density polyethylene filaments that block out microbes and resist abrasion…"

Quote above from https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a32239323/inside-nyc-funeral-home-during-coronavirus/

If no embalming, there is less actual handling of the deceased and procedures are cautious but less fussy. Cremation usually requires transport to somewhere other than the funeral home and in this story it is a location three hours away. But that is likely just a factor of this story being about a funeral home in NYC. Most areas are probably like my own, the only thing that might limit crematorium access is scheduling a formal service around it.

The other thing to throw in here is that, once a deceased arrives at the funeral home, they are being handled in a room that is being disinfected at least daily and certain surfaces multiple times a day. That is normally the case, the effect of the virus has just been to increase the frequency and scope of disinfecting.

My takeaway from this is that there are reasons to be concerned about contact if you find yourself handling an emergency. But in the context of paddling, that is most likely to happen with someone who has already taken a swim so maybe avoid breathing close with them. Last I knew CPR recommendations had all switched over to using sequences of 30 (or similar) pumps on the chest, and away from mixing in mouth to mouth cycles. So if anyone has newer training that issue is resolved.

If this thing was going to be over by the end of summer we might avoid thinking about all these details. But until a vaccine these restrictions are likely to remain. California State just announced that its entire fall semester would open online only and I know of a smaller area college actively thinking about the same. My town/gown orchestras along with regional ones are beginning to think a relaunch in 2021, those that can survive that long, because wind and brass players can’t perform with masks on even if an audience at 50% capacity would pay the cost of the performance. Canada and the US just added time to the restriction of travel between the two and it likely won’t be the first extension.


they will be 6 feet under so they will be social distancing LOL

Celia, a fascinating book on death is Caitlin Doughty’s Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? She mentions the purging and other gross but normal phenomena.

I, too, wonder about the future of orchestras. There’ve been examples of very small numbers of musicians (singer duos, rock bands, chamber musicians) who used technology to separately create and record their performances and then combine them. But I can’t see how something the scope of an orchestra could do this well. Maybe the conductor could have headphones on with a score in front of him and videorecord him “conducting” so that each player could record their part in sync with the recording of him? That still leaves out an enormous part of the orchestrak experience, that of feeling like one organism breathing together and responding to cues from each other, not just a top-down chain.