Funeral, cemetery & crematoriums
March 27, 2020
As a regulator, we have responsibilities to all our stakeholders, which includes delivering on certain services. We also believe that it’s important to be especially thoughtful and caring during this time. Sometimes those two things can seem at odds with each other – managing our business and following the law with being compassionate towards the needs of our licensed businesses. We are trying to balance those things to the best of our ability during this difficult and changing time. We ask for your patience and your trust while we navigate these waters.
As the situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we understand how important it is for your business to be able to continue operating in a time of social distancing or possible quarantine. The content on this page is intended to help you make informed decisions for you, your employees, your clients and your business.
Essential or critical service designation and emergency measures
The Provincial government has established a list of essential services to clarify which services should remain available in the context of the Province’s response to COVID-19. The list includes coroners and workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries, and workers supporting the appropriate handling, identification, storage, transportation and certification of human remains.
The Solicitor General has declared a state of provincial emergency. This allows the province to enact any provincial emergency measures needed to respond or lessen the impact of an emergency, including securing the critical supply chains and exercise extraordinary powers over the maintenance and coordination of emergency medical, welfare and other essential services. These powers supersede all other Acts during this time and should health and funeral sector capabilities be overwhelmed, may result in extraordinary measures in the form of legislation to provide for specialized handling, storage and/or burial of human remains, issuance of death certificates and burial permits.
In these circumstances, the Chief Coroner, together with the Provincial Health Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the Vital Statistics Agency, may direct changes to normal documentation and processing to facilitate a rapid burial where there is a reasonable presumptive cause of death and no identification issues. They can also authorize the use of mass graves and direct the establishment of community body collection locations.
We are closely tracking this situation and are engaged with government daily. We will continue to provide updates as we learn more.
Regulatory compliance and legal issues
Funeral providers must continue to follow all laws and regulations. It is advised to be aware of this especially with the potential for reduced staffing, and employee fatigue. Please contact us if there are issues needing clarification, and we will provide advice.
March 31, 2020 administrative fee update
Our automated notification system for March 31, 2020 administrative fee deadline payments experienced an error and was delayed. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused. We are therefore extending the deadline for this payment to April 15, 2020. All payments may be made online through MyAccount and the system has been updated to allow for payments to April 15, 2020. The reporting dates of December 16, 2019 to March 15, 2019 stay the same.
Upcoming preneed reporting deadline extensions
For those who have upcoming preneed reports to submit, we are extending the deadline by two months.
- For funeral providers and operators with a fiscal year-end of December, the new deadline is May 31
- For funeral providers and operators with a fiscal year-end of January, the new deadline is April 30
- For funeral providers and operators with a fiscal year-end of February, the new deadline is July 31
Eligible funeral service staff
We are announcing that eligible year one apprentices currently registered in the program are allowed to perform all duties of a licensed funeral director or embalmer as required. Mentors must ensure that these individuals are being directly supervised while conducting any arrangement or embalming activities.
We are available to reinstate any retired or inactive funeral director or embalmers who are available to work on an expedited basis. This includes granting temporary licensure for funeral directors and embalmers from other provinces under Labour Mobility.
If meeting with families, use a spacious area for the meeting; have guests keep a spare chair between them; use phone, email or video as alternatives to a physical meeting, and e-signature applications, such as DocuSign, to sign paperwork.
Remote contracts and authorizations
Some funeral providers are seeking clarity on the ability to initiate and complete funeral service arrangements remotely.
CIFSA section 8 allows for funeral services (the possession and transfer of the remains) to be initiated by phone but requires written confirmation on the funeral contract before other arrangements may proceed. In this unusual time, we are clarifying that it is still vital for the family to understand the funeral contract and agree to its terms before other funeral services are provided. This process can occur electronically.
Funeral directors may make arrangements online or over the phone and send a copy of the funeral contract to the family for review either via fax or email or through some other electronic means. An electronic confirmation (again via fax or email or other means) from the CIFSA section 5 family member is enough to proceed with funeral services.
The CIFSA section 5 family member may also authorize disposition (burial or cremation) electronically.
Changing funeral practices due to social distancing
The Province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency. All gatherings are now restricted to 50 people, and many businesses and organizations have been ordered to close including schools, bars, and restaurants except for takeout or delivery. These restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
We recommend that you discuss concerns and options with the families you serve. You may find that consumers will make the choice for you and opt for lower-risk alternatives, such as direct cremation and celebration, deferring the funeral, staggering or splitting the visitation, and video conferencing. Those communities that regularly require visitation or viewing as part of their cultural funeral rites or ceremonies need to be informed of how best to support social distancing at this time.
Remember, guests attending your funeral home should practice:
- Social distancing: put a 2-metre distance between others
- Hand hygiene: keep soap dispensers filled in all washrooms. Have hand sanitizer readily available at all entrance points
- Cough/sneeze etiquette: cover coughs and sneeze into your elbow. Have extra tissues readily available
- Post reminders of how to prevent being infected: wash or sanitize hands often, put a 2-metre distance between others, stay home if sick, cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently and meticulously: tabletops, mobile phones, keyboards, landlines, nametags, commonly touched surfaces such as light switches, countertops, chair arms, railings, doorknobs, and handles
We recommend that you try not to delay disposition and avoid storing the deceased longer than needed. Instead, delay the celebration of life or other services but move forward with disposition whenever possible.
Supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
We understand that all PPE is being directed to health care workers and there is some concern within the sector that not enough PPE will be available for funeral service professionals in a crisis. We are currently tracking this issue, which we have raised with government. Should government designate the funeral service sector as a critical service, this may assist in obtaining more PPE. In the meantime, we ask funeral professionals to be conservative with their current supplies of PPE and only use PPE when needed.
Registration of death
We have confirmed with Vital Statistics that all funeral providers can access online death registries anywhere in the province. This includes registration and printing death certificates.
This does not have to be done at funeral homes. Funeral providers should have several staff who can register the death as Vital Statistics agents. Vital Statistics deals directly with private deaths. Family members must obtain a certificate of death and can scan and email that document to Vital Statistics (it doesn’t need to be done in person). Vital Statistics cannot and will not register a death without the medical certificate of death. Coroners and physicians can complete the medical documents after the death and sign off remotely too (i.e. if a death occurs at a care home and was anticipated).
There is no reason not to prepare a COVID-19 decedent as long as you follow your routine precautions. Information from health sources to date have indicated that COVID-19 is spread by droplet and contact. It is not principally an airborne virus. Therefore, ensuring routine droplet barrier precautions, environmental hygiene, and overall sound infection prevention is the best way to keep you and your employees safe.
Remember, there are many infectious sources that can stay alive on a surface that could hurt you (such as hepatitis). You should always take precautions as if every person is a carrier of something and be diligent about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). You should be wearing N95 masks when embalming, otherwise that type of mask isn’t required.
Refrigeration of human remains
Embalmed remains are not required to be placed in refrigeration and may be held in the preparation and embalming room. Remains must be stored in a respectful manner however we understand that storage capacity is stretched to the limit. If the deceased needs to be stored and refrigeration isn’t available, it may be necessary to add additional temporary refrigeration or embalm to preserve the remains prior to disposition. We also accept that more decedents may be in refrigeration than designated in which case you may, during this crisis, rotate remains in refrigeration, meaning that there would be the potential of decedents that have been in refrigeration taken out and be placed back in as the need arises. Remains out of refrigeration should be covered and may be stored on prep tables or stretchers outside of refrigeration but in a secure preparation and embalming room. Contact the Public Health Officer for your region if you are no longer able to store remains and require guidance on alternative options.
Control of disposition
Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act (CIFSA) section 8 requires authorization from the family to take possession of remains. In a pandemic emergency, contacting the correct person may prove more difficult than normal which could delay cremation or burial. Assuming you do take possession, it is highly unlikely that funeral services will proceed in a timely fashion. Funeral directors may, therefore, be required to make disposition arrangements over the phone (delaying bereavement rights and ceremonies) and store the remains until the burial or cremation can occur or is otherwise ordered (see below).
Note that section 8(3)(b) of the CIFSA provides that a Medical Health Officer may order a cemetery, mausoleum and crematorium to dispose of human remains under the Health Act. We are working with our government partners to determine how this may take effect and what process the industry should follow to bury or cremate remains on the order of the Public Health Officer.
Interments and cremation
We are aware that some funeral providers have been storing remains since the pandemic began to inter at a later date. Interments and burials must proceed now. All funeral providers, cemetery and crematorium operators should be preparing for and conducting interments as soon as possible to maximize their availability for burials or further cremations.
Timelines for cremation
A Medical Health Officer may order a change to normal procedures to allow cremation within 48 hours of death. We are working with our government partners to determine how this may take effect and what process the industry should follow to cremate remains on the order of the Public Health Officer.
It is possible that some families may choose to transport the bodies of family members. Families need to be aware that section 3 of the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Regulation provides restrictions on the movement of human remains and the persons authorized to do so.
Other than licensed funeral directors or their staff and transfer services, any other persons transferring remains must be acting under a permit issued by a director under the CIFSA.
Such persons must also transfer the remains in a manner that prevents the remains from causing a hazard to the health of any person and requires a rigid, closable container of sufficient strength and construction. Even if a family is transporting remains under such a permit, they should always still carry a completed burial permit with them. We are working with our government partners to determine how Vital Statistics is managing the issuance of death registrations and certificates, and burial permits in this uncertain time.
Am I or my staff at increased risk?
We are monitoring information from various health sources. There is no known evidence of post-mortem spread of the virus to date. There is no known risk associated with being in the same room with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19. That said, it is important to take the same precautions you would normally take in the practice of your profession.
Do I have to self-isolate if I prepare a body that has COVID-19?
Similar to a healthcare worker, there should be no reason to self-isolate if you have followed the precautions that you’ve been trained to do. However, the current guidance from public health officials is to self-isolate if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
We are consistently monitoring and reassessing the impact of this pandemic and we will let you know of any updates as quickly as we can. Please keep checking this page for updated information.