MODESTO (CBS 13) — The coronavirus outbreak is forcing funeral homes to make tough changes that make it hard for families to mourn their loved ones.
CBS13 has heard from families all over Northern California who aren’t allowed to say a final goodbye inside a funeral home. It’s heartbreaking, but funeral home staff are on the front lines and need protection.
“It’s really a heart-wrenching challenge never ever faced before,” said Jon Salas, the owner of Salas Brothers Funeral Chapel in Modesto.
Salas is the third person in his family to run this chapel in Modesto. His grandfather ran the chapel amid the Spanish Flu outbreak in the early 1900s. In 2020, Coronavirus turned his life upside down.
“We have pretty much eliminated any type of service here in our chapel,” Salas said.
At his chapel, families are unable to view the body of a loved one before burial or cremation. Salas can’t risk the chance of contamination.
“This is not what we want to do. But it doesn’t only take but one person,” he said.
Each body that’s brought to his facility has to be treated like a possible carrier for coronavirus.
“Maybe that person, that sheet that they’re wrapped in, their clothes, the body bag they might be in. We just don’t know,” Salas said.
What’s scary is that cleaning supplies are scarce. Salas said large scale suppliers are giving all equipment, like gloves, to hospitals. He understands, but he’s left to scrounge like the rest of us.
“I’ve literally had to resort to going to dish gloves that you’d get at any old store because I cannot get gloves,” Salas said.
He also bought a rain suit at Lowe’s which he wears while processing bodies. He can’t find bleach at the stores so he’s making his out of chlorine tablets.
Salas said the lack of protective gear will be a huge problem if the virus continues to spread quickly and deaths continue to increase. He said hospitals simply don’t have the capacity
“We’re the first one of course that they call because they are not made to maintain any number of deceased people,” Salas said.
To be prepared for whatever the virus brings, Salas is calling on lawmakers to cut red tape when it comes to burials and cremations. He says they need to happen quickly.
Salas says he cares for bodies for days on end because it takes that long to process paperwork.