R.J. O'Shea Funeral Home Stepped Up During Pandemic Height - 27 East

R.J. O’Shea Funeral Home Stepped Up During Pandemic Height

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John O’Shea, director of R.J. O’Shea Funeral Home in Hampton Bays.     DANA SHAW

John O’Shea, director of R.J. O’Shea Funeral Home in Hampton Bays. DANA SHAW

authorMichelle Trauring on Mar 25, 2021

The United States hit a grim milestone on April 6, 2020, when the official death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic surpassed 10,000 — with at least 4,758 of those fatalities in New York City alone.

The city set up temporary morgues. Hospitals rented refrigerated tractor-trailers to store bodies, often loading them up on the sidewalk for all to see. Crematoriums stretched to capacity, some of their machinery breaking from overuse.

Funeral directors begged for help as they ran out of space, some forced to simply close their doors — pushing grieving New York families to look elsewhere.

That’s when calls started to flood Long Island funeral homes, according to John O’Shea, director of R.J. O’Shea Funeral Home in Hampton Bays.

“Our first concerns were seeing the shutdown of churches and cessation of funeral ceremonies,” he said. “The funeral industry shifted to cremation or immediate burial. I heard that some city cemeteries prohibited families from entering the cemetery.”

With very little guidance from New York State, the Nassau Suffolk Funeral Directors Association stepped up, headed by President Richard O’Shea — Mr. O’Shea’s brother — who coordinated daily briefings with the State Department of Health on policies and procedures for funeral homes.

The briefings also covered individual cemetery policies, “since every cemetery had a different set of rules and lacked any uniformity,” Mr. O’Shea said, adding, “The NSFDA organized distribution of PPE to funeral homes and kept us informed on best practices for handling infected remains.”

At first, the funeral home’s main focus became personal protection from the virus, “otherwise we would not be able to serve families suffering a loss if we were infected,” Mr. O’Shea said. For both staff and visitors, a temperature screening was mandatory to enter the building, masks and social distancing were enforced, disinfection stations were installed, and all guests complied with contact tracing protocols.

Disinfection procedures included spraying down the chapel, lobby and restrooms with Anasphere Plus, a disinfectant, fungicide, mildewstat and viruscide, as well as the removal van and stretcher.

“Everything we did worked. Keeping families protected became our paramount concern,” Mr. O’Shea said. “As more people receive the vaccine, the danger grows smaller, and the hope for normalcy comes closer to becoming reality.”

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