New Virginia House bill clarifies funeral home personnel as “essential workers”

Roanoke Valley News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Staff members at funeral homes are now considered “essential workers” in Virginia, thanks to a bill passed by several House delegates.

This comes as local funeral homes are struggling to obtain need resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re still challenging. There’s still a lot of anxiety,” said Sammy Oakey, President of Oakey’s Funeral Service and Crematory.

Oakey says he and his staff members are worn out. Last year, the family-owned business saw more than 100 additional deaths compared to 2019.

Calls are also continuing to flood in during the month of January.

“We’re working as hard as we can. We’re having to stretch our resources here,” Oakey said.

Despite the hard work and extra efforts, funeral home personnel like Oakey weren’t considered “essential workers” by state leaders — until now.

During a Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21, House delegates voted in favor of prioritizing funeral homes for required needs, especially when it came to vaccine distribution.

A notion Oakey thought was already in place.

“When we were wondering whether we were essential or not, that gave us some cause to be concerned,” said Oakey.

Under the amended bill, staff members working at funeral homes will also be considered “essential workers.”

The bill previously only included licensed employees.

“We have people who are working funerals who are not licensed. We have people going into our preparation room and working with decedents who are not licensed,” Oakey said.

After successful lobbing, and support from those higher up, Oakey says he’s glad he and others are next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s just nice to know that we got this taken care of today and that our people can be in line to prioritize where they are for the vaccine,” said Oakey.

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