On March 19, at NFDA’s urging, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) named mortuary workers as “critical infrastructure workers,” underscoring the vital role funeral directors and others who work in deathcare play in responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. See the NFDA website for the full announcement.
Here are answers to questions we have been getting since the announcement.
Is this a mandate from the Department of Homeland Security?
As noted in the news release, the document issued by DHS was guidance to states, not a mandate.
While some states will implement the guidance as issued, others may choose to apply the guidance in a different way. You should check with your state funeral directors association or state/local department of public health for more information on how this guidance is being applied.
NFDA is working with state funeral director associations to urge governors to use their emergency powers to ensure deathcare workers are included in any state and/or local guidance or mandatory orders identifying critical infrastructure workers.
Additionally, NFDA brought together a coalition of national and state funeral associations, suppliers and other members of the funeral service profession in sending a letter to President Donald Trump asking that he turn the DHS guidance related to those in deathcare into an executive order, which would carry the force of law and take precedence over state directives regarding critical infrastructure workers.
NFDA and the coalition also sent a similar letter to leaders in Congress asking them to craft legislation identifying deathcare workers as essential critical infrastructure workers.
I am glad we’re near the front of the line for PPE? How can I get needed supplies?
Obviously, the federal designation as critical infrastructure workers goes a long way to helping funeral directors receive the critical PPE supplies they need.
The federal government is allocating PPEs from the Strategic National Stockpile directly to each state, based on population size. “Hotspots” with high numbers of infections and/or deaths are receiving additional PPE’s.
In order to receive their allocation, however, state departments of public health, in coordination with local public health departments, must request supplies through the federal system – the ASPR (Dept. of Heath and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response).
Therefore, funeral homes must relay their unmet needs to their local/state health department, which will funnel the request through the federal ASPR system.
We believe the same will be true for other necessary supplies.
Update: March 24: Due to the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, we have observed some shortcomings in communication between local, state and federal agencies. NFDA is working hard with all federal agencies to address any issues brought to our attention by our members. We will continue to discuss logistics with our federal partners, and suggest members also contact their state associations as they are on the front lines in the state and have been working in conjunction with NFDA to address issues as they arise.
My state (or city) has issued a “shelter-in-place” order? Can I go about my business?
Funeral homes should reach out to their local or state department of public health to determine how the guidance is being applied in their state and what, if any, documentation should be carried to show critical infrastructure worker status.
Are suppliers considered critical infrastructure workers?
The guidance states that Healthcare/Public Health category includes
- “Workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers”
- “Workers who coordinate with other organizations to ensure the proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains"
We believe funeral service suppliers would be covered in the second group because they help funeral homes properly handle and dispose of human remains. In essence, this guidance covers the full spectrum of deathcare.
Supplier should, however, check with their local or state department of public health to determine how the guidance is being applied in their state and if they are considered critical infrastructure workers.
Are testing and vaccines covered by this guidance?
The DHS guidance for critical infrastructure workers does not address priority access to testing and a COVID-19 vaccine once it is developed. The guidance does, however, signal that critical infrastructure workers would take precedence.
In letters NFDA and a coalition of national and state funeral associations, suppliers and other members of the funeral service profession sent to President Trump and leaders in Congress, we asked that they give deathcare workers priority access to testing and a vaccine when it becomes available.
This is a rapidly evolving situation. Please stay tuned to further developments.