LONDON, ONT. – The number of COVID-19 cases related to a London, Ont. Funeral continues to rise.
After a funeral visit, church service and funeral on May 5th and 6th, which were attended by between 180 and 300 people, 16 people have now tested positive for COVID-19.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) continues its investigation, but Dr. Chris Mackie addressed the outbreak during Monday’s press conference.
“It seems the visit was more like the connection,” says Mackie. “But all of these exposures created, you know, close contacts that needed testing, and some, some of any of them would have come back positive by that point.”
CTV News London has reached out to Needham Funeral Home but has not yet received a response to our media request.
The day after the visitation, the funeral service took place in the Catholic Church of Holy Cross Santa Cruz.
The pastor was out of town but had the ability to celebrate mass in London, officials say.
“When the funeral took place in the church, our ward staff and the pastor greeted the family and the pastor who will be celebrating the funeral mass,” said Matthew Clarke, Diocese Communications Director, London.
“We worked with funeral directors to ensure there were no more than 10 people in the church. All security protocols were followed, including masking and distancing contact tracing information, and then they celebrated funeral mass.”
Clarke says there have been reports of people who were unable to get into church due to the 10 person limit and who gathered outside the church and across the street.
After the service, the funeral went to Woodland Cemetery. Despite the rule that only 10 people are allowed to attend an outdoor worship service, this number was exceeded.
“More than 50 vehicles arrived in procession and caused traffic jams in the cemetery itself – certainly more than the 10-person rule,” says Paul Millward, Dean and Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Because other loved ones want to visit the cemetery and have the option to drive around the property and stay in your vehicle, it is difficult for funerals to manage access to the cemetery.
Before the eruption, the cemetery staff prepared the grave before the service. They operated on the assumption that families will understand and limit the number of people during the pandemic.
Following this outbreak, Woodland made changes by adding a guard at the gates to start contact tracing. When a funeral procession arrives, a manager greets it and ensures that only 10 people attend the gathering.
“We are now working more closely with our local funeral directors and asking them to identify their vehicles in procession with markings that identify the particular funeral home so we know they are coming to that service,” says Millward.
“Since other family members come to visit other loved ones on the cemetery grounds, it is difficult to do that. We now have gates, security-related access management, collecting contact tracing information so we can meet the one budget plus rule as outlined by both the Province of Ontario and the bereavement department. “
Somewhere during this two-day journey someone did not obey the rules. Mackie says they tried to remind operators that series gatherings are putting people at risk.
“We don’t have any specific information about what happened,” says Mackie.
“We obviously weren’t there for the ceremony, but you can imagine that people who are really moved, as they often do at a funeral, may have trouble staying two meters apart. There may even be times when some people feel that it is worth hugging, even if it’s not according to the rules. And in such situations where there are high emotions, many people gathered actually create a higher risk than any of us should be exposed to at this point. It’s a very unfortunate situation. “
For many people, grief was particularly difficult during the pandemic.
“It’s been really, really hard for our faith community,” says Clarke. “To be able to gather for mass, to be able to gather to have a grand funeral for someone who passed away unexpectedly. It’s been a long pandemic for believers in London, but the rules are in place. We have done everything we can to ensure that they are looked after and respected and that people stay safe. “
Millward adds, “It’s one of the worst times in their lives for a family and that’s why people are grieving and wanting support as always. But the complication right now lies in the coronavirus and the restrictive access and social distancing requirements we must have also adhere to these protocols to ensure the safety of our employees and their families as well as other families. “
Due to the large number of people attending the funeral directors, not all attendees could be contacted. The MLHU asks everyone who attended the gatherings to be quarantined as they are considered high risk contact.
“It also highlights the issue of the series events,” says Mackie. “This is a situation where you can really be exposed to extra stress and where you can really put a large number of people at risk. As the limits on indoor gatherings increase over the next few weeks and months, we absolutely have to avoid these social series Meetings that can actually endanger dozens, and in this case hundreds, of people. “