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Canada St. John's funeral home a COVID-19 'mini-epicentre' after more than 60 cases traced to two wakes

09:10  27 march  2020
09:10  27 march  2020 Source:   nationalpost.com

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John ' s funeral home a COVID - 19 ' mini - epicentre ' after more than 60 cases traced to two wakes . Our most powerful weapon is that we know what it is and we can learn from people who have already suffered through it. WatchHow the COVID - 19 pandemic changed the world in one week

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a large brick building with grass in front of a house: W. J. Caul Funeral Home in St. John’s, Newfoundland. © Google Street View W. J. Caul Funeral Home in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Shannon Fleming and Edward Tobin died on the same day just two weeks ago in St. John’s, N.L.

Fleming died 12 days shy of her 37th birthday after struggling with kidney disease. Tobin, 78, died suddenly at home; he was born the same day British intelligence broke the spy codes for the Enigma machines used by Germany in the Second World War.

Funeral wakes for both overlapped on Sunday, March 15, at W. J. Caul Funeral Home, an establishment more than a century old at the top of Barters Hill, overlooking the harbour.

Somewhere in the mix of mourners, novel coronavirus spread.

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Health officials have now traced more than 60 of the province’s 82 cases of COVID-19 to the funeral home, where someone attended after returning from a trip abroad.

“We were all in a period of adjustment and learning new things about how to cope with the coronavirus and containing its spread,” said Reverend Paul Lundrigan, a Catholic priest who presided over the Tobin funeral and visited during the overlapping wakes.

“It’s become a mini-epicentre here.”

Funerals and funeral wakes are terrific places for virus transmissions, especially with demonstrative Newfoundlanders.

“Everyone comes in and they’re all over each other and everyone is calling out to each other and slapping each other on the back and hugging. Normally I’d shake hands and hug half the people there.”

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This time, however, with coronavirus concern — but before a health emergency was declared — he didn’t.

“I was very careful not to shake hands with any of the people who came, including with the family themselves. They understood. They were just grateful they were able to gather and have a funeral,” he said. He is in self-isolation and has no symptoms of COVID-19, such as coughing, fever and difficulty breathing.

Many others are not as fortunate.

a man and a woman looking at the camera:  Funeral wakes for Shannon Fleming and Edward Tobin overlapped on the same day at the same funeral home. © W. J. Caul Funeral Home Funeral wakes for Shannon Fleming and Edward Tobin overlapped on the same day at the same funeral home.

It is not known publicly with precision where the coronavirus came from. The initial transmissions happened sometime during various funeral activities for the Flemings and Tobins between March 15 and 17.

The funerals were held on different days, when health regulations urged limiting the number of people at gatherings to 50 at the most, and attendance was kept down because of that. But there weren’t bouncers at the doors.

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That some people for both services have COVID-29 suggests the nexus may be the overlapping visitations or perhaps funeral staff. Lundrigan said people in the community say someone arriving for one funeral also knew members of the other family and attended both wakes.

Many were trying to keep physical distance, he said. The two visitations were held with empty rooms in between.

At the funeral he oversaw, people generally tried to keep some distance, Lundrigan said. He watched people move back a row of pews when someone sat in front of them or shuffle to the other end of a pew.

Some people who originally tested positive for COVID-19 from the funeral home have since spread it to health-care workers, including paramedics, said John Haggie, the province’s health minister.

“It has had an impact on workers in the health-care system,” Haggie said Thursday.

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It is a vivid display of contagion.

“We are following in the footsteps, in some respects, of other jurisdictions. There have been outbreak clusters around a retirement home in B.C., there was a convention of professionals in Vancouver and a bonspiel in (Edmonton) that have all generated similar concerns,” Haggie said.

On March 21, the funeral home posted a public notice debunking chatter of a problem at its facilities, saying: “We have been in touch with the Department of Health and have been advised that no COVID-19 infection has been linked in any way to staff, family, or visitors.”

That changed the next day when the health department contacted the home at 1 p.m. to say an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 had attended services for the Fleming and Tobin families, funeral home management said in a statement. The home contacted those involved, including the families, musicians and pastors, including Lundrigan, who was called Sunday, he said.

a screenshot of a map

The home is now closed at least until April 1.

“The health of those we serve, and the greater community, is of utmost importance,” Caul’s said in a statement. A funeral official did not respond to a request for information prior to deadline.

Until further notice, the archdiocese of St. John’s has stopped public funeral services. If a burial is necessary, a brief graveside blessing will be held with a few immediate family members only.

Full celebrations of life will be planned when the pandemic relents.

“We need to now make sure families understand this is so necessary for their protection, especially families who are grieving,” said Lundrigan.

“They’re so emotionally charged, they’re just not thinking about keeping physical distance and washing hands and they’re crying over each other. That’s the quickest way to spread this disease, people who have wet noses and wet eyes and wiping their eyes and then touching each other, holding each other and kissing each other.

“It’s probably one of the most dangerous places to be.”

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | Twitter: AD_Humphreys

Anxiety lingers as N.L. officials trace bulk of COVID-19 cases to funeral home .
Anxiety lingers as N.L. officials trace bulk of COVID-19 cases to funeral homeNow nearly three weeks later, that March 16 service has been linked to what provincial officials have dubbed "the Caul's cluster" after a person who attended a funeral at the home between March 15 and 17 tested positive for COVID-19.

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