BRIDGEPORT—With the number of deaths in Fairfield County climbing as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, Catholic Cemetery workers are taking added precautions to protect themselves and mourners from spreading the virus.
Dean Gestal, director of diocesan Catholic Cemeteries, said that over the last two-week period, twelve of the last 21 burials have been from Coronavirus-related deaths.
Gestal said that the 40 diocesan employees who manage and maintain the nine active cemeteries are now wearing protective clothing, gloves and masks and taking additional safety measures at each burial.
“It takes our burial workers five minutes to get into their protective suits and five minutes to get out of them, but it has added another layer of protection for all involved,” Gestal said.
He said that in response to crisis and consistent with the guidelines developed by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, diocesan cemeteries have issued new funeral guidelines for staff and for the public for all In-ground burials and mausoleum entombments (from COVID-19 and no- COVID-19 deaths).
The graveside service will be open only to Immediate family with a maximum of ten in attendance. All committal rites will be conducted outside without tents or chairs (except for the elderly or infirmed). Mausoleums will be closed to all but cemetery workers.
The burial will be completed after the service when the family has departed.
Gestal said most families have understood and appreciated the safety precautions, which are done with dignity for all involved. However, he acknowledged that it is a difficult time for those who have lost a loved ones.
He said the crisis has underscored the need for pre-planning for individuals and families, who may not think of burial arrangements in good times. He said that cemeteries throughout the diocese have received inquiries and requests for information, which his staff is able to handle.
“We all have to get through the worst of this before we can move forward. As the deaths from the virus spikes, we are stressed but not overwhelmed. I’m grateful to our staff who have responded to the crisis and brought this ministry to families in need,” Gestal said.
On March 16, in response to the health and safety threat posed by the Coronavirus and the concern of civil authorities, Bishop Caggiano suspended all public Masses, including funeral Masses in the diocese. However, the crisis guidelines permit priests to celebrate the Rite of Committal with Final Commendation at the graveside. The bishop suggested to pastors that at a later date, a public memorial Mass be celebrated for the repose of the soul of the deceased and the consolation of the family. Similar practices have been put in place by dioceses across the country.
For further information on Catholic Cemeteries, visit online: www.bridgeportdiocese.org/cemeteries/home; Phone: 203.416.1494