Funeral homes call for looser restrictions to aid grieving families

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, final goodbyes have been dampened due to virus mitigation restrictions. Hospitals have visitor limits and funeral attendance is capped.

Funeral home owners are growing more frustrated with state rules that continue to limit funerals to just 25 people while restrictions for restaurants and other venues have eased.

“I can have more people attend the funeral luncheon than the funeral,” Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes Vice President Matt Hollebeek said.

Hollebeek said he feels defeated after reaching out to the state health department, the governor’s office and local lawmakers but getting back only generic replies. He said that makes it harder for him to explain the restrictions to families who are grieving.

Hollebeek said many aren’t aware that the 25-person cap on funerals is still in place. He said he has had to have difficult conversations about which of the deceased person’s children or grandchildren will be allowed in.

Michigan has some of the most restrictive funeral rules in the Great Lakes area. Minnesota allows 50% capacity, Illinois set the cap at 50 people and Indiana 250 people. In Ohio, there are no limits.

“We are so concerned about the physical health of our community. What is this doing to the mental health of our community?” Hollebeek wondered. “We have families that we serve, they still have not had a funeral.”

Restrictions are not giving loved ones a chance to properly grieve, which Hollebeek says is important. 

“It’s everything, really. It allows you to recognize that a death has occurred and it allows you to start your life without that person here,” he said.

News 8 reached out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to learn why funeral restrictions have not been loosened. A spokesperson replied with a generic statement that didn’t mention funeral homes.

“Is it a matter of people coming together and hugging each other. Let’s talk about that,” Hollebeek said. “I was just on an airplane last week three in a half hours, that’s completely acceptable. I wasn’t hugging the person next to me, but I might as well been.”

He said he is willing to take whatever precautions are needed to increase the number people who can attend a funeral.  

“We just want a discussion,” he added. “Can we talk about it, can we work on it together?”

“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) continues to make decisions that protect public health based on the best available science and data. Michigan has made great progress since the late fall peak, however, community spread of the virus continues across the state, which means that protections such as restrictions on the size of gatherings and consistent masking and social distancing remain necessary to protect frontline workers and Michiganders everywhere from COVID-19. If we all follow these rules, Michigan can return to a strong economy and get back to normal safely as soon as possible. COVID-19 spreads in indoor settings where individuals socialize without masks and, with growing number of cases of the B.1.1.7  variant in Michigan, we continue to proceed cautiously. 

“Since November we have taken actions that have helped reduce the rate of COVID-19 cases and saved lives. We know that the latest Pause to Save Lives, which was initiated under the Director’s epidemic order, likely saved more than 100,000 Michiganders from contracting this deadly virus and prevented nearly 2,000 deaths, according to a University of Michigan study.  MDHHS continues to monitor the data to make decisions on reopening venues or activities as well as expanding capacity in those venues. This includes case counts, percent positivity and hospitalizations.

“MDHHS continues to meet with stakeholder groups about capacity limits and other reopening questions and concerns and is willing to meet with those groups affected by the order to consider their input as we make future decisions.”

MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin

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