GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Since March 2020, funeral directors like Dave Durston have had to help grieving families and at the same time limit the numbers in the chapel.
“On average (before the pandemic), we have about 100, 150 chairs in here,” Durston of Zaagman Memorial Chapel said Thursday of one of the large visitation rooms.
Today, there are enough seats to accommodate 25 mourners, the flat number set for funeral homes by the state under current COVID-19 mitigation protocols.
“We just try to keep a good count of people in and out of the room at any given time and hope we don’t have too many people waiting,” Durston said.
The limits on funeral home capacity, which have varied during the pandemic, have been toughest on families during an already difficult time.
“Our hearts go out to all of those folks during the last year or so,” Durston said.
Zaagman Memorial Chapel and other funeral homes could increase capacity to 25% under the first benchmarks on COVID-19 recovery set by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.
On Thursday, she tied the loosening of restrictions to percentages of residents who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, promising four phases ending with the lifting of the broadest orders once 70% of people 16 and up have had at least their first dose.
At 60%, funeral homes, conference centers, banquet halls and stadiums can open their doors to 25% capacity. Funeral directors are still looking for clarification on whether that means total capacity in the entire building or the number of individuals in visitation rooms.
“But we are overall very glad that the governor has decided to take steps forward to help open up funeral service again,” Durston said.
At LMCU Ballpark, where the West Michigan Whitecaps play, they know how a 25% capacity will work.
Under current rules, capacity is limited to 20%, or 2,000 fans. Five hundred more will be allowed in when the state hits that first-dose vaccination rate of 60%.
While 500 more may not seem like many, it will impact the Whitecaps’ bottom line.
“Twenty percent felt OK. Twenty-five percent just feels better after we’re done crunching the numbers and getting right down to running the business of baseball. Twenty-five percent is actually much better number,” Whitecaps spokesman Steve VanWagoner said.
The Whitecaps and other local teams are doing what they can to try to get the state to that 60% as quickly as possible.
“We’ve created some video with the Griffins that you’ll be seeing coming out, and with the Drive locally, that is encouraging West Michigan to get your vaccination,” VanWagoner said.
But not all business owners are thrilled about Whitmer’s plan.
The owner of Goei Center, a popular event space and wedding venue in Grand Rapids, criticized Whitmer’s plan. Bing Goei told News 8 it doesn’t make sense why certain places like event halls and funeral homes are held to a different standard or benchmark than other places like restaurants.
“Why is it that bingo halls can have 50% capacity, but event centers like mine and others cannot have 50% capacity?” Goei said.
While Goei is fully vaccinated and has been for months, he said it’s alarming to think his livelihood will be dependent on others making a personal choice to get vaccinated.
“It means that other people are now controlling the ability for me to provide for my family, to provide for my employees, when we can do it ourselves,” Goei said.