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April 21, 2020

Black-Owned Funeral Homes in Detroit Overwhelmed With Coronavirus Deaths

Black-owned funeral home in Detroit

With the rapidly increasing number of deaths related to COVID-19, funeral homes have been swamped with a lot of work. Aside from dealing with the large volume of deaths, they were imposed to change the way funeral services are held during the coronavirus pandemic.
Stephen Kemp, the president and CEO of Kemp Funeral Home & Cremation Services, said he was overwhelmed with the situation caused by the pandemic. As "last responders at the end of the healthcare chain," Kemp said he has so far handled at least 50 people who died from COVID-19 complications.

"It has been... surreal," he told the Detroit Free Press. "I've been doing this 36 years, and I've never seen the sheer volume and the grief that occurs with these deaths. They're so quick, they're so insidious. What compounds the grief, they can't see them when they're ill. And after they die, they can't have a meaningful service -- and now they can't even go to the cemetery to see their loved one buried."

Ozie Pye IV, owner and executive director of O.H. Pye III Funeral Home, said it is even more difficult to deal with the situation with fewer employees. Two of his employees died due to coronavirus and other employees who had contact with them are in quarantine.

"We're trying to do everything with fewer people, and have three or four times the volume that we had before," Pye said. "We are absolutely swamped."

The number of bodies awaiting burial and cremation continues to multiply and they didn't have enough facilities to store them. More than that, the process for paperwork that is required for deaths have been ultimately slowed by the closure of most local government offices. Even though cremation is an option, it became challenging to secure the necessary authorization from the deceased's loved one because, in some instances, they are infected as well.

Even more, these funeral homes take up to 2 weeks to prepare and conduct funeral services that should be for "very limited viewing only" in order to comply with Michigan's executive order limiting groups to 10 people or fewer. Viewing via livestream became an option as well.

"You can't have a funeral, you can't go to the cemetery you couldn't see them when they were sick. This is tragic to people. It's going to affect them for the rest of their lives," Kemp said.