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CDC Recommends Guidance in Handling Bodies Potentially Exposed to Coronavirus

The Forum - Features
February  2020

Autopsies, Embalming & Preparation, Contagious Disease Cases, Funeral Director, Mortuaries (Funeral Homes), Occupational Health & Safety, OSHA

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance for the handling of human remains that may have been exposed to the coronavirus currently spreading across the globe.

While the guidelines are specifically meant for health care professionals and those performing autopsies, many of the suggestions are adaptable for funeral directors handling human remains.

The CDC, for example, is urging the following when dealing with a body that is suspected of having been exposed to the virus, also known as COVID 19:

  • Limiting the number of people working in the room where the remains are present.
  • Limiting the number of personnel working on the body.
  • Using caution when handling any sharp objects and disposing of any sharp objects in a puncture-proof, labeled, closable container.

PPE Recommendations

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard requires employers to have a program outlining protections and training for employees who are occupationally exposed to blood or bodily fluids.

Funeral homes should revisit their protocols on Universal Precautions and on the use of Personal Protective Equipment. The use of Universal Precautions is a required concept of care based upon the assumption that all blood and body fluids and materials that have come in contact with blood or body fluids are potentially infectious.

According to the CDC guidance, the following PPE is recommended for use during autopsy procedures of those suspected of COVID 19 exposure:

  • Double surgical gloves interposed with a layer of cut-proof synthetic mesh gloves
  • Fluid-resistant or impermeable gown
  • Waterproof apron
  • Goggles or face shield
  • NIOSH-certified disposable N-95 respirator or higher

When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program. A physician’s written opinion as to the suitability of each employee’s respirator use must be provided before they can begin using the device. Only after an employee is medically cleared can they be fit tested and trained to use a respirator.

The full list of guidelines can be found here. The CDC has also issued guidelines concerning infection control.

Coronavirus Timeline

The coronavirus, first reported in Wuhan, China, has spread rapidly to 37 countries around the globe as of February 26, 2020, according to the World Health Organization. The virus has killed more than 2,700 people worldwide, with the vast majority of those deaths occurring in China. A total of 44 people have died outside of China. Outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran account for most of those deaths. There are more than 81,000 confirmed cases worldwide, according to WHO.

No one has died in the United States, but there are 53 confirmed cases here. The majority of confirmed cases in the U.S. are the result of exposure on a cruise ship. New Jersey has no known cases as of February 26, 2020.

The New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association is periodically reviewing updates from both the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Heath and Human Services.

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