July 4, 2020
COVID-19 updates: learning from Ebola

From the article: "As the grim reality of COVID-19 unfolds, families and health care workers in the United States are faced with dealing with the horrifying magnitude of deaths from this novel disease. This tragic situation brings forth the question of whether the bodies of patients who have died from COVID-19 provide a risk of infection in others.

I have worked for many years as an infectious disease doctor and public health official, during emerging disease outbreaks, such as Ebola virus disease in 2015. I have witnessed the extra challenges families experience when faced with the death of their loved ones from a highly transmissible infectious disease. For this current pandemic, here are the safety guidelines for dealing with deceased loved ones and the reasons why, from a scientific perspective.

Contagion risk decreases after death

Public health authorities have set out guidance for the management of the deceased based on current knowledge of both susceptibility to and transmissibility of the coronavirus.

The recommendations for handling those deceased from COVID-19 are based on knowledge that this novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is most commonly transmitted by respiratory droplets that are projected by a living person through coughing and sneezing. Therefore, after death, the risk from this respiratory mechanism is no longer present. However, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) can also be transmitted from indirect contact: that is, touching a surface contaminated with the virus and then self-contaminating by touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth.

Preventing transmission when handling the deceased is achieved by “contact precautions,” which includes wearing a gown and gloves and hand-washing after removing these barriers. The deceased is placed in a body bag and the bag is then wiped down with EPA-approved disinfecting wipes prior to transportation.

This guidance holds in the funeral home setting as well, except there are additional instructions for preventing airborne transmission of coronavirus when certain body processing procedures, such as embalming, are performed."