Being the director of a funeral home in Zachary, Louisiana, sometimes your neighbor says that when they see the cars in the parking lot, ask: “Who died?”
Zachary, a suburb of Baton Rouge, has a population of about 18,000.
George Joseph “GJ” Charlett III and his three siblings own one of the two funeral homes in Zachary. During the coronovirus epidemic, he found his occupation – such as in funeral homes in many other small towns across the US – has been witness to disaster approaching and personal.
The business was opened in the Charlie family by his grandfather and his brother in the 1940s. Charlett is one of the funeral directors in the family funeral home. He grew up 20 miles north of Zachari behind another funeral home that his family owns in Clinton, Louisiana, which was damaged in the historic floods of August 2016.
Because he was raised in a funeral home, Charlet knows how to prepare for the worst. He was taught at an early age to fill a gas tank on the horse before the promotion to a local high school if fatalities were caused by accidents involving drunk driving.
But even Charlet Kovid-19 was not ready for the epidemic. “A few months ago, it was really scary because there wasn’t a lot of guidance on what we were going to do,” he said. A small supply of body bags meant that some bodies had to be wrapped in sheets.
This worried Charlett because she was unsure of the risk of capturing the Kovid-19 from a corpse. Charlet and other staff members went above and beyond and tried to protect themselves by wearing surgical gowns everywhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the risk of becoming infected by a dead body is low, as they do not breathe.
Initially, the Charlett funeral home did not allow services inside and only held the Graveside funeral, which he tried to limit to 10 people. But it was not easy to mourn family members following the rules.
“Without fail, people just, you know … they did what they wanted to do,” he said. “There was no way we could keep people away from the funeral.”
The funeral home now allows indoor services of 75 people or less. Charlette worries about catching the virus from those attending a funeral who may have been in close contact with the deceased before his death.
“It is rare that we have a funeral service where we do not know anyone in the family or they have some connection. It is a very social environment, ”he said. “These days, I let people stay in the building and then I went back to my office and I locked the door. And I try my best not to interact with people as much as possible.
According to data from the Louisiana Department of Health, there have been 552 Kovid deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish, where Zachary is located. The average positivity of the parish has been 10% over the past six weeks. Over the same time period, an average of 13% of people tested for Kovid-19 in the two census tracts that make up Zachary were positive for it.
Charlet said there have been more deaths in the community due to Kovid, but it has not overwhelmed the funeral home. Generally they handle around five services per week. But the number of Kovid’s deaths has increased since Thanksgiving, he said. The funeral home services Angola in Louisiana State Peninsula for some deaths. In prison, 16 prisoners have died from Kovid-19.
Charlet has a printout of an essay, called Always Go to the Funeral, which he intends to read at his funeral. “Man needs that ritual to say goodbye,” he said. “You have to accept someone’s death.”
But his 80-year-old uncle recently caught Kovid and is very ill. If he dies, Charlet does not want his mother to go to the funeral. “I wish people took more care and took advantage of writing condolences,” he said. “This is a strange place for me. It suits my livelihood. “