By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THERE is “exponential” demand for more caskets due to a higher intake of remains at funeral homes amid increased deaths from COVID-19.
According to Funeral Directors Association President Kirsch Ferguson yesterday, while larger funeral homes now mark their intake at around 30 to 40 bodies a week, smaller companies say they are taking in roughly five to seven — double what the demand was months ago.
This has meant that in recent weeks funeral homes have had to order bulk shipments of caskets, he said.
The industry is also grappling with casket shortages and rising costs, which are also being transferred onto families.
Caskets are primarily sourced from the United States, which also has a high number of COVID-19 deaths. Funeral directors are oftentimes unable to fulfill orders as homes in the US have taken first priority over exports.
Mr Ferguson spoke candidly yesterday of the challenges facing local funeral homes, giving a sobering view of how the virus has led to more and more deaths in the country.
“At this present time,” he said, “I would say we are requiring almost double the number of caskets because (of) the death rate as you see right now, and then most Bahamian families, they do consider cremation but it’s not a primary option for Bahamian families.
“While cremation is still being done, they are still having funeral services followed by cremation, so the need of a casket is still in high demand and that increase has been exponentially increased over the past few months.”
He also said: “We’ve been consistently seeing up to five to seven bodies come in per week in most mortuaries. Obviously, the larger firms are doing 30 to 40 bodies per week coming in and then also there is still a backlog at the morgue so that number changes from week to week in terms of bodies being released and deaths occurring at wards and in homes.”
This has translated to funeral homes having to make extra provisions for the storage of remains.
Mr Ferguson also said the industry is grappling with a supply chain issue.
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing now and globally is a shortage of caskets being exported from the US based on the death rate there and we’re so heavily dependent on them.
“So funeral homes are making every effort to bring in bulk shipments at this time when we are allowed to because as it is right now, we are unable to fulfill our orders based on the US market being the first priority for manufacturers.
“We’re impacted to the extent of us having to delay funeral dates and times based on the availability of caskets being imported in The Bahamas, that is (a) primary factor.
“Second to that there is a cost involved where the shipping rates have gone up so in a lot of instances you see families are being mandated to pay a bit more just to accommodate the shipping in and of itself. But we do our best to keep our base prices as low as possible but circumstances right now with shipping globally is a major concern for all of us,” Mr Ferguson said.
Last week, former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said that people are “dying in droves” due to the COVID-19 crisis.
He said Bahamians need to prepare to accept that deaths will continue to increase or welcome a dramatic change in policy and behaviour.
Despite this, Mr Ferguson said funeral homes want restrictions on funerals eased.
“We were agitating for that from day one primarily because we were never consulted in terms of the protocols being undertaken for funerals themselves and then while we see families are now not necessarily postponing funerals for a length of time the agitation for more persons to participate in the final rites has increased.
“Families don’t abide by the protocols, but we can’t police what is being asked from the government for us to do.
“We can’t police it, so whoever attends, attends and it is what it is,” he said.
In July, churches in New Providence and Grand Bahama were limited to a one-hour worship service daily with a maximum capacity of 33 percent.
It was also stated in July that funeral services would not be allowed, but graveside services are permitted with a maximum of 30 people, excluding the officiant and funeral workers. No funeral repasts are permitted.
More than 600 people have died from COVID-19 according to health officials.