One of the many issues experts have been dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic is how to combat how contagious the deadly virus is.
In addition to being passed among living people, it can also be passed from a dead body infected by the virus to a living person. Doctors still don’t know exactly how long the virus can live in the body even after a person has died, but it could be several days.
“If somebody were to go and touch, hug or kiss a dead corpse [of someone who died of the coronavirus], then yes, there is a chance that they might catch the virus from contact,” Dr. Prakash Shrestha, an infectious disease physician with Covenant Health, said.
However, he said there’s no need to worry. While it is possible to catch COVID-19 from a corpse, the chance of this kind of infection happening is low.
The most at risk for this are the so-called “last responders” — those who handle dead bodies, such as forensic pathologists and funeral directors. That’s exactly what’s concerning Mike Box, an Associate Funeral Attendant for Krestridge Funeral Home in Levelland, TX.
“Those droplets [from those who’ve died of COVID-19] can still come out of their mouth and nose and form a vapor that you can be exposed to,” Box said.
Funeral workers have had to use extensive PPE and safety measures when handling these cases.
“That just shows you how strong that virus is, that it can live … through the embalming process and then [after being] kept in refrigeration for three days,” Box said.
One of the biggest challenges for the funeral home has been having open-casket funerals for virus patients. Families want to see their loved ones one last time before saying goodbye without knowing the potential risk.
“It’s hard for them to say goodbye to somebody without touching them,” Box said.
Sometimes, Box added, they will put veils over the caskets at these funerals out of caution. However, Dr. Shrestha emphasized that the greatest risk at a funeral is the potential for the virus to spread among the living.
“The virus is not going to jump out of the dead body … The risk is from other individuals who are present during the ceremony,” Shrestha said.