Funeral homes reopen Monday during Phase 2

EAST BOSTON — Retail stores and restaurants with outdoor seating reopened Monday under Phase 2 of Gov. Baker’s reopening plan. Funeral homes are now open, too.

Like most industries, funeral homes must follow strict social distancing guidelines. COVID-19 has altered the way Joe Ruggiero and his father do business.

>>>MORE: Restaurants, retail stores and other businesses reopening with guidelines Monday for start of Phase 2

“The whole coronavirus thing has changed the way people celebrate their loved ones’ lives,” Ruggiero said.

Ruggiero owns the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home in East Boston. He said a busy month consists of about 25 to 30 funerals. During the height of the pandemic in April, they were doing more than 70 funerals per month.

Wakes and church services for more than 10 people were banned under a statewide emergency order designed to slow the spread of the virus. Now, during Phase 2, funeral homes can expand from the 10-person limitation up to 40% capacity.

Related: It’s official: Phase 2 of reopening Massachusetts starts Monday

Inside Ruggiero’s funeral home, chairs are carefully placed six feet apart to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“The nature of funeral, in general, is extended condolences; and you want to hug and handshake and practice those very customary behaviors that are now risky behaviors,” Ruggiero said.

Funeral homes can now offer full wakes, although Ruggiero said they won’t necessarily advertise them for the time being. Instead they are encouraging families to keep it by invitation-only.

“That way they would have a better pulse of the people they are interacting with. If a family really insists, we’ll deal with everything on a case-by-case basis, but we’ll try to inform the families of the inherent risk there is to be around an open-ended invitation to the general public,” Ruggiero said.

The Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association recommended several additional guidelines. They include offering separate entrance and exits to funeral homes, offering multiple visitation times and discouraging the use of register books.

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