Funeral workers face increased risk of COVID exposure as PPE becomes scarce

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Funeral workers face an increased risk of exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic as personal protective equipment continues to be scarce.

The owners of Ridgemont Mortuary in Houston, James and Jessica Reyes, have now handled their first COVID-19 positive body and fear contracting the virus without safe gear.

"Just like the first responders, we're going into the nursing homes, we're going into the hospitals, we're going into the morgues," Jessica said. "Us not being considered first responders, we are not able to get any of the donated equipment. We're not trying to hoard, we're just trying to be able to protect ourselves."

PPE issued by the City of Houston is currently only available for first responders, essential city employees, and personnel working at mobile COVID-19 testing sites.

For now, they reuse what they can to get by.

"We service roughly 60 families a month, so you have to think about 60 families divided into four people," Jessica said. "So, not only are we coming into contact taking their loved ones into our care, but we're getting into contact whenever we're doing preparations for any type of viewing service or cremation services."

Another concern they have is a lack of COVID-19 screening at some of the facilities they pick up bodies.

"Nursing homes, not everybody is taking our temperature going in. The hospital, not everybody is taking our temperature going in," Jessica said. "As the cases start rising, that's how we're starting to see more facilities starting to test more coming in."

The Reyes' hope for more consistency to minimize their risk of getting the virus to protect their health and their business.

"People always talk about the funeral industry is going to be here, but with COVID we don't know whose industry is going to be here," Jessica said.

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