Chicago-area funeral homes struggle with how to enforce social distancing amid increasing COVID-19 deaths

Sarah Schulte Image
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Coronavirus Chicago: Funeral homes struggle with enforcing social distancing guidelines amid increasing COVID-19 deaths
With the number of coronavirus deaths increasing, some Chicago-area communities are concerned that funeral homes are holding ceremonies where social distancing isn't taking place.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Holding funerals poses a unique challenge during the coronavirus pandemic.

In southwest suburban Orland Park Wednesday, loved ones chose to honor their relative with a drive-by funeral. But there's concern that other funeral homes in the area are holding ceremonies where social distancing isn't taking place.

For decades, South Side and south suburban African American families have turned to Leak & Sons for their funeral needs. The family owned funeral home is handling many of the coronavirus deaths.

Spencer Leak Jr. tells families they must follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 10-person rule for funerals.

"We clearly state to them, it's a 10-person rule. They understand it, however, word gets out mom's funeral is such and such a date, and more people come," he said.

Some funeral attendees said this is what happened last weekend, when Leak & Sons' South Side location held several funerals at once.

"Every chapel was full. They were taking care of different funerals and there was like 50 people in the chapel that I was in," said a funeral attendee who asked not to be identified.

The attendee said no one was social distancing inside or out.

Leak said he cannot control what people do on the sidewalks, but he is trying to control the numbers in each chapel.

"Our drivers have become security officers. They are standing at the door, they are counting the number going in and out," he added.

While some don't think the funeral home is doing enough, Leak said he wants the state and city to give more direction on what is expected at funerals so people understand the 10-person rule.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that she'll continue to work with funeral home associations to offer guidance.

At the same time, she said she understands the struggle funeral home directors face when responding to families' needs, while working within the parameters of the "stay-at-home" order.