Last updated: October 5, 2020 at 6 p.m.

Read Toronto Public Health’s Guidance for Funeral Homes (also available below), Guidance for Visiting Cemeteries (also available below) and Guidance for Planning a Funeral Reception or Celebration of Life. Also read the tips for the public attending faith-based services and events and funerals.

See also the Ontario Ministry of Health’s guidance for funeral and bereavement services.

Last updated: May 4, 2020

COVID-19 is an infection caused by a new type of coronavirus. COVID-19 can present as an acute respiratory illness in humans. The virus is spread mainly from person-to-person through close contact. More information on COVID-19 can be found in the Toronto Public Health COVID-19 Fact Sheet.

The Government of Ontario has deemed businesses providing funeral, mortician, cremation, transfer, and burial services, and any related goods and products (such as coffins and embalming fluid), as essential services, and are permitted to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic. With current community transmission of COVID-19 in Toronto, funeral homes should take extra precaution in employing infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

Recommendations for funeral homes on how to best protect families and their staff:

Review IPAC measures

  • Funeral directors should review their IPAC policies and procedures to ensure they are consistent with professional best practices, including guidance provided by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario and the Funeral Service Association of Canada.
  • Staff should be trained and familiar with the IPAC policies and procedures, including additional precautions relating to COVID-19 and occupational health and safety guidelines.
  • The appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be reviewed with staff, including donning and doffing procedures for gloves, face protection (e.g. masks, goggles), gowns and shoe covers.

Restrictions for individuals under self-isolation

  • In the case of a death related to COVID-19, it is possible that close contacts (e.g. shared same household) of the decedent will be in self-isolation. Other people may also be in self-isolation due to a high-risk exposure through other contacts or travel.
  • Persons who are experiencing symptoms of acute respiratory illness or are 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.
  • Due to capacity constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, funerals and interments may not be delayed and must be carried out immediately or as soon as possible.
    • 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.

Conduct screening to prevent the spread of COVID-19

  • All staff should be aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, including:
    • fever
    • cough
    • difficulty breathing
    • muscle aches and tiredness
    • sore throat
    • headache
    • runny nose
    • new loss of taste or smell
  • Require staff who are sick to stay home:
    • Staff who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness must stay home, and not attend work until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
    • Staff who have travelled outside of Canada must stay home, and self-isolate for 14 days after returning to Canada.
    • Visit our website to learn about assessment centres, and to help determine if further health care is required.
    • Remind staff about the importance of reporting illness to their supervisor/manager.
    • Provide attendance and sick leave policies and procedures that compensate staff for staying home if they are sick.
  • Active screening:
    • Post signage in visible areas which clearly explains the screening process and the rules and conditions for entry.
    • Screening should occur in a designated area near the main entrance. The areas should allow for a minimum of two metres (six feet) distance between staff conducting screening and the person being screened.
    • Actively screen family, mourners and religious officials prior to entry by asking the following:
      • Do you or any member of your household have any of the following symptoms: fever/feverish, new or existing cough, or difficulty breathing?
      • Have you travelled outside of Canada within the last 14 days?
      • Have you had close contact with a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case?
      • Have you had close contact with a person with acute respiratory illness who has been outside Canada in the last 14 days?
  • Individuals who have answered NO to all questions can enter the funeral home after performing hand hygiene (i.e. washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for 15 seconds. If soap and water is not available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 70-90% alcohol concentration).
  • Individuals who have answered YES to any of the questions should not be permitted to enter the funeral home.
  • Make alcohol-based hand sanitizer available at the screening station.
  • Screening may be conducted in advance by telephone, email, or other methods.
  • Encourage individuals to visit our website to learn about assessment centres, and to help determine if further health care is required.

Increase communication with attendees and staff

  • Post signs at all entrances instructing attendees and staff not to enter if they are sick.
  • Post educational materials to encourage behaviours to prevent transmission such as:
  • Information can also be communicated on the funeral homes website and through automated telephone and email messages.
  • Stay up to date with information about COVID-19 through the Toronto Public Health website.
  • Support and encourage proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Educate staff and attendees on proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer (70-90% alcohol) in dispensers near entrances and other high touch locations for attendee and staff use. Monitor and refill as needed.
  • Provide additional supplies such as tissue boxes and no-touch waste receptacles in appropriate areas/locations.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Post Cover your Cough, Hand Washing and Hand Sanitizing signage in visible locations

Implement measures to encourage physical distancing

  • Physical distancing refers to the practice of avoiding close contact by keeping a distance of two metres (six feet) from others. Strategies to encourage physical distancing can include:
    • Avoiding physical greeting practices such as handshakes and hugs.
    • Staggering appointment times to reduce the number of people attending the funeral home at the same time.
    • Utilizing technology as an alternative to a physical meetings, such as phone, email, video and esignature applications to sign required paperwork.
    • Arranging chairs/seating areas farther apart and/or place signs in fixed seating spaces (e.g. pews,
      benches).
    • Limiting attendance to the visitation, funeral service and burial (e.g. immediate family only).
      • Currently, the limit of attendees is limited to not more than 10 persons (as of March 28, 2020). This limit does not include funeral home staff.
    • The use of webcasting or other virtual technologies (e.g. recording the service) for those who cannot attend.
    • Recommending that the family hold a larger memorial gathering at a later date after the pandemic
      has passed.

Precautions for visitations and funerals

  • Viewing of the body for mourners is permitted.
  • There is no known risk associated with being in the same room at a visitation or funeral service with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19.
  • People should avoid touching, kissing or having direct contact with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19.
  • If contact with the body is important due to religious or cultural practices, mourners should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including disposable gloves and keep the contact to a minimum.
    • Perform hand hygiene immediately after contact with the body.
  • Some activities can increase the chance of COVID-19 spreading among funeral attendees even at a distance.
  • Activities such as group singing and self-serve food or drink (e.g. water pitchers or buffet) should not be included in ceremonies.
  • Use of non-medical masks can be considered by the attendees as they may mitigate pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmission of the virus if clean and properly fitted.
  • Medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.
  • Persons who are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (e.g. older adults, those with chronic underlying conditions) should be encouraged not to attend the visitation or funeral service.
  • When the family leaves, thoroughly clean and disinfect the funeral home, paying special attention to high touch surfaces the family may have come in contact with during their visit.
  • Observe and enforce maximum attendee directives governing how many people can attend funerals and burials.

Enhance environmental cleaning and disinfection protocols

  • Enhance cleaning and disinfection policies and procedures.
  • Disinfectants should have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). A DIN is an 8-digit number given by Health Canada that confirms it is approved for use in Canada. Check the expiry dates of products you use, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Chlorine bleach solutions may be used for disinfection if appropriate for the surface.
  • Prepare chlorine bleach solutions according to the instructions on the label or in a ratio of:
    • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) bleach per cup (250 mL) of water, or
    • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) bleach per litre (1000 mL) of water.
    • Ensure a minimum of two minutes contact time and allow to air dry.
    • Prepare fresh bleach solution daily.
  • Educate staff on how to use cleaning agents and disinfectants:
  • Designate staff to clean and disinfect high traffic areas and frequently touched surfaces and objects (e.g. doorknobs, elevator buttons, light switches, toilet handles, countertops, hand rails, chairs and pews).
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least twice per day, and when visibly dirty.

Body Management

For specific information on body management (e.g. transportation, handling, embalming), please refer to
guidance provided by the following authorities/agencies:

The Bereavement Authority of Ontario (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. As of September 21, 2020, the BAO Registrar’s Directive states that the indoor gathering limit for cemeteries is 25 people, not counting staff. This limit applies to gatherings, attendances, funerals, visitations, funeral receptions, and graveside services.

For outdoor funeral services (visitations, receptions and graveside services) the gathering limit is up to a maximum of 100 attendees at a cemetery or funeral home’s property providing:

  • The service is under the control and direction of a funeral director.
  • The service (at the cemetery) has the consent of the cemetery operator for numbers over 25.
  • Funeral directors have one staff member for every 10 attendees to properly manage the gathering and ensure physical distancing is maintained.
  • Guests are registered/logged to enable contact tracing.

The Reopening Ontario Act, which states that the gathering limit for funerals must not exceed 30 per cent, applies strictly for gatherings in a building or structure that is not a private dwelling and makes provisions to ensure that everyone in attendance complies with public health requirements for physical distancing.

The decision to close or limit access to a cemetery is within the rights of the cemetery director and/or manager, and are aligned with the directives issued by the BAO. Cemetery directors should review their infection prevention and control (IPAC) policies to ensure they are consistent with professional practices, including guidance provided by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

Stay Informed

Staff Health Screening Policy

Staff must be self-screened before each shift. Staff must inform their supervisor, and stay home if they are sick or unwell. Anyone who becomes ill while on the premises must go home right away and self-isolate. They should contact Telehealth Ontario, their health care provider or a COVID-19 assessment centre for guidance about testing.

Staff Training

  • Ensure staff are trained on IPAC measures, policies and procedures.
  • Ensure staff have received additional training on COVID-19 precautions, including occupational health and safety guidelines.
  • Train staff on the City mask bylaw (see below) and your organization’s mask policy, including who is exempt. Proof of exemption is not require.
  • Instruct staff and volunteers on proper hand hygiene techniques and respiratory etiquette, when to use masks, the proper use of mask, and how to clean or discard single use masks appropriately.
  • Schedule frequent cleaning of public spaces, including high-touch surfaces. More information cleaning and disinfecting can be found here.

Mask Bylaw

The use of non-medical masks or face coverings is required in all indoor public spaces, as per a new City of Toronto bylaw. Operators are required to develop a policy and protocols on the wearing of masks. See sample policy on page 3. Communicate this new policy to staff and customers. Masks or face coverings can be worn outside where one is unable to maintain the appropriate physical distance with those they do not live with.

Visitations

  • All visitors must self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 and may not enter the cemetery if they have symptoms. Post the health screening questionnaire on your website so visitors, staff and customers can self-screen before arrival.
  • Limit indoor services to 25 people, not counting staff.
  • The use of masks or face coverings is required in all indoor public spaces, including enclosed mausoleums.
  • Provide alcohol-based (70-90% alcohol concentration) hand sanitizer stations by entrances and high-traffic areas.
  • During a burial service at the cemetery, the operators must ensure everyone maintains a distance of two metres/six feet between those who are not from the same household.

Attendance Record

  • Collect the date, names and contact phone number or email address of the staff, volunteers, and visitors who attended the service. This will support public health contact tracing efforts in the event that a visitor or staff 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.

Public Health Measures for Visitors

  • Wash hands often, including before and after visiting the gravesite, or use hand-sanitizer with an alcohol concentration of at least 70%.
  • Maintain a six feet/two metres distance from people you don’t live with at all times, including visits to the gravesite.
  • Wear a mask at all times when entering indoor spaces (e.g. mausoleum).
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or into a tissue. Immediately throw the tissue in the garbage and wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching face with unwashed hands.
  • Download the COVID Alert app so you can be notified directly if you have been in close contact with someone who was contagious with COVID-19.

Print and Post Signs

 

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