CUMBERLAND — As Maryland entered stage one of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery plan on May 15, it looked like funeral homes, which have been limited in the services they are allowed to provide for the past several months, were finally able to get back to business in a somewhat less limited capacity.
Dates and times for visitations and viewings started showing back up in the obituary section of the newspaper. However, due to modified guidances released to funeral directors this week, those announcements may be fleeting just as they arrived.
“We just got an update saying that a funeral establishment does not itself quality as a religious facility,” said Rob Adams of Adams Family Funeral Home in Cumberland. “However, a portion of the establishment that serves as a chapel or is dedicated to religious practices would qualify. Therefore we operate that at 50% (capacity). But visitation or viewing is a 10-person limit. So that basically means I can’t have visitations other than 10 people, but we can have a funeral service as long as it’s religious with 50% capacity.”
The funeral home, prior to receiving the updated letter, was able to perform its first service at 50% capacity in two months by taking precautions like maintaining social distancing, setting up chairs with plenty of distance in between and wearing masks.
With the revised guidance being released on Thursday, Adams said he didn’t want anyone to think he had been lying to them in the week between receiving the initial and revised letters.
“That still means basically it’s going to be invite or private unless it’s a smaller family group,” Adams said. “I was flying kind of high there, thought I was going to be able to do my job. So far it seems like everything is holding, just hoping hospitalizations don’t spike up.”
The email Matt Scarpelli of Scarpelli Funeral Home received on the modified guidelines advised that “what constitutes a chapel or religious facility is not completely clear,” that funeral home directors may wish to mark chapel rooms as such and that it’s ultimately a matter of orders given by county or local officials in the funeral home’s jurisdiction.
Based on the new guidelines, whether a room is capped at 10 or 50% varies from room to room.
“We were still able to have visitations. It was only that it was maxing out at 10 people and in those 10 people you had to include our staff and the minister and everything,” Scarpelli said. “We’ve spaced out our chairs and then we’ve started offering livestreaming in several formats.
“I know we’ve done, at least, two graveside services where the casket was in place in the cemetery, a minister came and then just like me and one of my helpers. That’s kind of weird to see but people seem to like it.”
The update to only certain rooms being able to operate at 50%, while allowing more people to come, see and grieve for their loved ones, brings with it a new set of challenges, as funeral homes like Scarpelli have been in business for long enough that they are grandfathered out of having set capacities, said Scarpelli, so they have to monitor a self set half-capacity.
“Within our building, we have several different rooms and the rooms the body is on display in is considered a chapel. The internal rooms where our coffee stand is are still limited to 10 people,” Scarpelli said. “You’ve got hundreds of people interpreting things hundreds of different ways. I think we’re still planning on operating with the chapel at 50% and maintaining strict social distancing.”
Both Adams and Scarpelli said whatever allows the family to properly mourn and express their grief is one of their top priorities.
Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.