AUSTIN, Texas - At a memorial service held Wednesday at a North Austin funeral home, the number of grieving friends and family allowed inside was limited because of the viral outbreak, but on May 1st, empty chapels will be filled once again, but on a scaled-back basis.
"I think it is a good initial first step,” said Gene Allen, president of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, who spoke to FOX 7 from his Kerrville office about Gov. Greg Abbott's new guidelines. "I think I'm very optimistic, I think it's going to be a good thing, and if everybody acts responsibly and do their part, we will see the next step May the 18th and we will be able to move forward."
The funeral industry has spent the past several weeks trying to adapt by holding drive-by memorial services, streaming them online, and postponing services and doing only burials.
"I don't think initially in this first phase, we are going to see a rush to have any kind of ceremonies, there may be a few, I think you're going to see most people waiting, to see what the next step is,” said Allen.
In Abbott's new order, funerals are covered under the section for churches and houses of worship. The main rules include:
- Capacity capped at 25 percent
- Only every other row can be used
- Seated six feet apart or two empty spaces on either side
"I think the biggest obstacle I think we are going to be facing is when we get to that capacity and folks are still trying to come in to attend, that factor of rejection, and tell them they can't come in, that's going to be a challenge,” said Allen.
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Masks should be worn but are not required. It’s also suggested that those in the vulnerable population watch services online. The virtual service is something offered by Mission Funeral Home operated by Charles Villasenor.
"In all my years, I have not seen anything like this, I have to say it been different,” said Villasenor. Rewriting the rule book, according to Villasenor, started a few years ago.
"In 2010 I was on the pandemic task force for the State of Texas, which we talked about the possibility of a pandemic in the future, so we've covered a lot of interesting topics back then, and so I think as a company we were better prepared from the middle of February to start looking at different ways we were going to protect our families and also different ways we were going to protect our staff," Villasenor said. "Our biggest concern really as everyone says is PPE, because if we are unable to keep ourselves safe we cant insure, we want to ensure we do not spread the virus ourselves."
Villasenor believes families should now use this time and rethink how they want to handle this current life and death situation.
"There is no easy way to go through this and I know this is a difficult conversation to have, but I think people should have the difficult conversation in talking about what they would like their services to be, and also sign legal documents, such as a will, medical directives, things that ensure your care, if something should happen that you can carry things out the way you choose to have it done,” said Villasenor.
The Funeral Directors Association is also working on clarification from the Governor's office on new guidelines. The group wants to know how the 25 percent rule should be applied at cemeteries or if basic social distancing will work.
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