The following guidance is to support owners and operators of funeral homes and crematoriums, including funeral directors, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This document describes the requirements operators must comply with under the Reopening Ontario Act and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO).
The BAO is a government delegated authority that works on behalf of the provincial Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. The BAO is responsible for licensed funeral establishment operators, directors and pre-planners, and cemetery, crematorium and alternative disposition operators. The BAO has developed a colour coded system of regional pandemic restrictions aligned with the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 Response Framework.
More information about COVID-19 can be found in the Toronto Public Health (TPH) COVID-19 Fact Sheet.
Responsibility of owners and operators
All owners and operators are responsible for ensuring that their funeral home or crematorium and services offered are in compliance with these public health guidelines, and all emergency orders made under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. In addition, owners/operators should review their infection prevention and control policies and procedures to ensure they are consistent with professional best practices, including guidance provided by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) and the Funeral Service Association of Canada.
The aim and purpose of this document is to assist individuals and businesses with information related to the Ontario Government’s reopening framework as well as Toronto Public Health requirements to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is important to know that breaches of some of these directions will constitute offences under provincial regulations or other public health legal requirements. While we aim to provide relevant and timely information, no guarantee can be given as to the accuracy or completeness of any information provided. This guidance is not intended to nor does it provide legal advice and should not be relied upon or treated as legal advice. Users seeking legal advice should consult with a qualified legal professional.
Protective measures to keep everyone safe
- Stay home when you are sick, even if symptoms are mild.
- Keep a two metre/six feet distance from those you don’t live with, when possible.
- Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
- Wear a face mask or covering when in indoor public spaces, and outdoors when physical distancing is difficult.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Measures for all Workplaces, Businesses & Organizations
Review the Guidance for Employers on Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace to plan and implement protocols to keep staff and patrons safe. Operators must also consider the following:
- Staff and patron attendance records
- It is strongly recommended that facilities maintain voluntary attendance records of all staff, visitors and families. Toronto Public Health will use this list to help with contact tracing efforts in the event that a person tests positive or an outbreak is identified.
- Providing personal information is voluntary for attendees. Your organization must obtain a person’s consent and inform them of the purpose and legal authority for collecting this information.
- Operators must take reasonable action to secure the personal information collected (e.g. locked drawer or secure electronic system).
- Any personal information that is collected for COVID-19 contract tracing can only be used for this purpose, unless an individual provides their consent. Records should be kept for 30 days, and then shredded.
- Health screening for staff and patrons
- Active screening is required for all staff before entering the facility.
- Communicate the COVID-19 health assessment screening criteria by posting information on your website, through email, or by telephone to encourage staff, visitors and families to self-screen before attending the facility.
- It is strongly recommended that owners and operators also conduct active health screening for all family members and visitors prior to entering the facility.
- Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
- Provide hand sanitizer (70-90% alcohol-based) near entrances and other high touch locations for visitors and staff use. Monitor and refill, as needed.
- Provide additional supplies such as individual tissue packs and no-touch waste receptacles in appropriate areas/locations.
- Do not share items such as water pitchers, prayer books or programs.
Workplace safety plan
- Operators are required to prepare and make available a workplace safety plan. This safety plan must:
- Describe measures/procedures that have been or will be implemented in the organization to reduce spread of COVID-19.
- Include measures for screening, physical distancing, masks, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects, and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Be in writing and made available to any person for review on request.
- Be posted in a highly visible place for people working at or attending the location.
- Use the COVID-19 Safety Plan Checklist to develop your safety plan.
Follow capacity limits
Ontario Regulation 82/20 requires that facilities limit the number of persons in the facility such that every member of the public is able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres (six feet) from every other person.
- The BAO issued a Registrar’s Directive, effective April 3, 2021, to restrict funeral services in Ontario to 15% capacity of an entire facility, with physical distancing, to a maximum of 50 people indoors or outdoors.
- Indoor and outdoor limits cannot be combined to allow more than 50 people in total (not counting funeral staff).
- Funeral services include all funerals and visitations, regardless of where they occur.
- The operator must ensure the following:
- The service is under the control and direction of a funeral director.
- Attendance is by appointment only.
- Funeral directors have one staff member for every 10 attendees to properly manage the gathering and ensure physical distancing is maintained.
- Guests name and contact information is registered/logged to enable contact tracing.
- Social gatherings associated with a funeral must also be limited to 5 people outdoors.
The following are suggestions for achieving compliance with these requirements:
- Use phone, email, video chats and e-signature applications to limit in-person visits.
- Offer remote services such as video conferencing to assist families with planning and arrangements, such as online selection of products, services or rooms.
- Stagger viewing times and set limits on the number of people allowed into the room at any given time to allow for physical distancing.
- Post signage at the entrance stating of the maximum number persons permitted at any one time.
- Assign staff to monitor the number of visitors entering and exiting to ensure adherence to the capacity limit. Once the maximum number of persons permitted has been reached, ask visitors to wait outside or in their car until they are called.
- Remove unnecessary furniture (e.g. chairs, benches) to accommodate the reduced facility capacity.
- Recommend for families to delay larger memorial services, or celebrations of life events until there are less restrictive group gathering measures in place or consider hosting it outdoors.
- Consider live streaming/webcasting or other virtual technologies for funeral or memorial service to include guests who are at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Support and encourage proper use of masks
- The use of masks or face coverings is mandatory in all indoor public settings, as per Ontario Regulation 82/20 and City of Toronto By-law 541-2020.
- Masks or face coverings are strongly recommended outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- Facility owners and operators must develop a policy on the wearing of masks, as per City of Toronto By-Law 541-2020, and train staff on the policy. Sample policy available here.
- Ontario Regulation 82/20 and City of Toronto By-law 541-2020 allow for certain exemptions, including children under two, people with health issues, people who are unable to put on a mask without assistance, and temporary removal of a mask or face covering while engaging in certain activities.
- More information is available here.
Practice physical distancing
- Plan and modify the layout to ensure enough space is provided for staff, families and visitors to at least two metres/six feet maintain physical distancing.
- Post physical distancing signs at all entrances, reception counters, visitation rooms.
- Design a walking flow (e.g. creating one-directional paths with prominent signage and/or floor markings), where appropriate.
- Use floor markers for the receiving line to guide visitors to stand two metres/six feet apart.
- Use visual markers, stickers or pylons to encourage physical distancing,
- Tape off or space seats to maintain a two metres/six feet distance for people not in the same household.
- Remind staff, families and visitors to maintain a physical distance of two metres (six feet) as best as possible. Members of the same household do not need to maintain physical distancing between each other.
- Ask guests to refrain from hugging, kissing and shaking hands during the service or reception. Suggest use of eye contact, with a smile or a nod as an expression of sympathy.
- Install plexiglass/barriers, if possible, where there will be close contact between staff and clients (e.g. reception counters)
- Group or congregational singing is strongly discouraged, even with masks. More information for vocalists and musicians is available in TPH Guidance for Planning a Funeral Reception or Celebration of Life.
Special considerations for deaths due to COVID-19
- Public viewings are permitted, even if the person has passed away due to COVID-19.
- In the case of a death related to COVID-19, it is possible that close contacts (e.g. household members) of the deceased will be in self-isolation.
- Persons required to self-isolate cannot attend the funeral home for any reason, including the visitation, funeral and burial during their self-isolation period.
- Clients under self-isolation may make funeral arrangements by other means, such as by telephone, video conferencing or appointing another person to make the arrangements on their behalf.
- Meaningful commemorative events, memorial services, and life celebrations for the deceased person can be carried out after the pandemic has passed. Toronto Public Health can assist in ensuring that those in self-isolation are aware they cannot attend the funeral home, interment, or have visitors to their home.
- Family members and visitors in attendance should avoid touching, kissing or direct contact with the deceased.
- If contact with the deceased is important for religious or cultural practices, assist mourners to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including disposable gloves. Keep contact to a minimum. Wash hands immediately after removing PPE. Avoid touching face with gloves or unwashed hands.
- Once family members and visitors have left, thoroughly clean and disinfect the funeral home, paying special attention to high touch surfaces the family or visitors may have come in contact with during their visit.
- For information on body management (e.g. transportation, handling, embalming), please refer to guidance provided by the following authorities/agencies:
Follow food and drink service restrictions
Indoor and outdoor dining at food establishments, including restaurants and event spaces, is not permitted. Operators should follow Guidance for Food Premises.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
- Increase the introduction and circulation of outdoor air by maximizing the outdoor air ratio of the HVAC system settings, or by opening windows and doors, where possible. Avoid recirculating air.
- Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety risk.
- Ensure the HVAC system(s) are properly maintained.
- Where provided, use the highest efficiency filters that are compatible with the HVAC system.
- Keep areas near HVAC inlets and outlets clear.
- Seating and activities should be arranged away from areas with high airflow (i.e. not in front of air vents).
- Rooms where indoor ceiling fans are used should have an upward airflow rotation.
- If portable fans are used, limit the blowing of air across people and surfaces by positioning them to provide an upward movement of air.
- For more information, review TPH’s COVID-19: Transmission, Aerosols and Ventilation fact sheet.
Increase public health awareness
- Inform staff, family members and visitors about the precautions you are taking to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Information can be communicated on the funeral homes or crematorium’s website, social media account, or through automated telephone or e-mail messages.
- Designate a contact person (e.g. supervisor) to respond to COVID-19 concerns from staff, family members and visitors.
- Encourage staff, family members and visitors to download the COVID Alert app. They will be notified directly if they have been in close contact with someone who was contagious with COVID-19.
- Download and display posters in high visibility areas in your setting to promote messages about how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic: