Cemeteries Having Trouble Keeping Up With COVID-19

As COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admission and intubations decrease, the pandemic crisis is hitting northeastern cemeteries.

According to the New Jersey State Department of Health, about 6,100 people die in the Garden State in a normal month. This April, there were more than twice as many deaths in the state, with 14,755 overall. In the state's northern counties of Bergen and Passaic, among the hardest hit by the pandemic, deaths nearly tripled, up from 920 per month to 3,070.

With the state mostly shut down to all but essential business, most of that sorrowful increase is attributed to victims of COVID-19.

"I've never in all my years experienced anything as bad as this," Gary Sciarrino, who's managed Clifton cemetery for over 30 years, tells NorthJersey.com. "It's just too much for us."

Cemeteries lack the staff to manage the flood of newly deceased. Seasonal and part-time workers have been working full-time. Some cemeteries are adding a second shift, while maintenance and groundskeeping have to adjust their schedules around all the burials.

While the surge in work and maintenance are challenging, the most difficult moments are when cemetery workers have to deny mourning families from paying their respects.

Some of New York's first COVID-19 cases were traced back to a funeral attended by an infected person in Westchester County. As such, there is no exception to New Jersey's ban on gatherings larger than 10 people for funerals.

"Many of them weren't allowed to see their family member in the hospital," Hackensack Cemetery manager George Harris said. "When they got to the funeral home, there was no traditional viewing. Then they come here, and we tell them no more than four people. That's tough to take when you lose somebody."

As of Monday morning, there were more than 138,500 confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey and over 9,250 deaths confirmed to have been caused by COVID-19.

Photo: Getty Images

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