ATLANTA — Georgia health officials are urging the state's funeral homes to implement social distancing practices that could severely limit the size of memorial gatherings.
A message district health Director Dr. William Grow with the Georgia Department of Public Health said it's essential that everyone - including funeral homes - practice social distancing to help limit the spread of coronavirus in Georgia.
“While we understand people gathering during an event like this, it is still important to try and avoid close contact. Try to keep six feet between people and wash your hands frequently,” he said.
Some counties in Georgia, like Cherokee, have already requested that funeral homes limit gatherings to 10 or less per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The county pointed to evidence that eight cases of coronavirus had spread from two funerals in Dougherty County, in south Georgia. Those funerals are also said to have exposed several others.
To date, Dougherty County has the fourth-highest number of reported cases of coronavirus in Georgia at about 38 cases. It ranks behind two much larger counties, Fulton and Cobb, and a third, Bartow, that has cases of coronavirus tied to a local church gathering.
In Cherokee County, however, funeral home directors have already agreed to place the limits on themselves.
"I commend these funeral homes for their leadership in taking these steps voluntarily and for their continued valued service to Cherokee County and its residents," Cherokee County Marshal's Office Chief Ron Hunton said.
According to a statement from the marshal's office, one funeral home director, Earl Darby with Darby Funeral Home in Canton, said that while it's unfortunate that the virus has forced changes to traditional customs, the need to protect the public outweighs that.
“Our job is to protect the public we serve,” he said.
Darby said that visitation and graveside services provided by his home would be limited to 10 people.
Brian Poole of Poole Funeral Home in Woodstock said he would be taking similar actions and heavily cleaning the facility twice a day.
“We’re definitely going to comply,” Poole said. “It is definitely the right thing to do.”