CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -“We’ve been exposed since day one,” said Ross DeJohn, of DeJohn Funeral Homes and Crematory.
“To find out that we can finally now get the vaccine feels amazing,” said Shannon Latek, of Latek and Rybicki Family Funeral Homes.
Throughout the pandemic funeral home operators and employees have been risking their lives to help families celebrate the lives of others lost during the past year.
“Our staff has to go in to people’s houses. We have to go in to nursing homes and to hospitals to pick up people who have passed on. So we are very exposed to anything that’s in the air, to anyone who may have COVID but doesn’t know it yet. And many times we’re picking up people who passed on because of the virus as well,” Latek said.
She says they were relieved to get word that they’re next in line for COVID vaccinations in Ohio.
“It does feel validating a little bit. It seems a little late because we are exposing ourselves to so many different situations where the virus is floating around and we ourselves could get it. But we’ll take what we can get,” she said.
“A lot of other states had death care workers included in 1a and 1b. Ohio was one of only 7 or 8 states that up until yesterday hadn’t addressed death care workers,” DeJohn said.
He says they’ve been running with splits shifts and staying vigilant, so they have been able to avoid cases among staff.
But he believes it’s important not only to protect the first responders but also the last responders
“A lot of the appreciation has been given to the health care workers which is very important. They’re every day faced with challenges that they have to be very reactive with. But death care workers are the same. Because at that time, we have to take over,” he said.
Twenty-five percent of the families served by Latek & Rybicki in 2020 were COVID-related deaths.
DeJohn handled 43 COVID-related funerals in December alone, and 24 in January.