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I-TEAM: Demand for funeral home streaming services increase in pandemic

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 6:35 PM EST
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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - The recent third wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths across the country hit our local community harder than we’ve seen before.

And that means families are being forced to say goodbye in unfamiliar ways, socially distanced, and often without a hug from family and friends to help us cope.

And the I-Team found the increasing death toll is also leading to a backlog for funeral homes.

“My daddy was a hero to me. He was a man of a strong faith.”

Beth Barranco said goodbye to her father as covid19 was just emerging in the united states.

Stan Bryant was a veteran, beloved North Augusta community member, husband of 50 years, a father, and a grandfather. He was also deacon of the Hometown Baptist church and a member of the American Legion.

He died after a long and valiant fight against pancreatic cancer.

“The quarantine started the week daddy died and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh... what in the world is happening right now?’” Barranco said.

With the country shut down, the family had to pivot from the large funeral they planned with Stan, to a small service of just about 20 people.

“It was devastating for me,” Barranco said. “You wanted to just get a hug and just you need that embrace when you’re dealing with something like that and your friends need to be able to grieve for you.”

But there was one detail the family could not overlook, Bryant’s service to his country during the Vietnam War.

“At first we didn’t think we would be able to do the military honors and that was just heartbreaking for me. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was almost like mad,” Barranco said.

With some creativity, Posey Funeral Home was able to make that happen. It was an honor Bryant’s friends watched from afar through a live stream on Facebook.

“Even though it was not the service we had expected or had planned for daddy…,” Barranco said. “It was probably the most perfect service we could have had.”

Walker Posey is also a lifelong North Augustan, and his family funeral home has been a community staple since 1879.

“I mean my grandparents went through World War I, World War II. We’ve seen other national tragedies like 9/11 but in our area, this pandemic is probably one of the most significant events we’ve had in the business,” Posey said.

Overall he says locally his industry is reporting a 20 percent increase in annual deaths in 2020.

“Today is the first day we haven’t had a funeral service in probably three weeks,” Posey said.

Locally, Posey says COVID-related funerals rose with the holiday surges, with 20 percent more funerals in December and 30 percent more funerals locally in January.

“There are COVID-related deaths that are impacting us, but other mental health issues. We’re seeing drug issues so many issues that come from the problems the pandemics causing,” Posey said.

And it includes an increase in suicides across the CSRA.

The spike in the death rate nationally is creating a funeral backlog for some areas affecting everything from funeral scheduling to casket availability.

“There’s been somehwat of a shortage of units. So we have to call to make sure those units are available, which I’ve never seen in a 20 year career. There’s never been a time where I’ve called to order a casket or an urn and it just not be available. Which just speaks to the level of demand during the pandemic,” Posey said.

A casket production company told the I-Team they’ve recorded a 30 percent rise in casket production in 2020. It’s forcing employees to work overtime and through the weekends to meet demand.

Nationally, 60 percent of funeral directors are also reporting an increase in demand for cremation.

While Posey’s has a crematorium on-site, they’re noticing the opposite here at home, with demand for casket burials noticeably on the rise during the pandemic.

“As families deal with grief and as your loved ones are in the hospital during COVID, you can’t go be with them. We’ve seen folks really express the need to spend time with them to say goodbye on their own terms, and to have that time as a family to view and say goodbye,” Posey said.

It’s something Barranco and her husband experienced again this year after her husband’s father also died after a long battle with dementia.

“Grief is hard and it hits you out of nowhere,” Barranco said.

While the double loss felt doubly cruel nearly a year after her own father’s socially distanced service, they were able to find another fitting way to say goodbye.

“Some things that I think have really been good from this pandemic is doing a live stream for a funeral,” Barranco said.

It’s a silver lining posey agrees, will probably change the way most families plan funerals going forward.

And if this year has taught us anything, it’s to expect change.

Speaking of streaming, Posey tells us while they’ve offered the service for decades, usually, only 5 percent of customers used it.

Currently, about 98 percent of customers are choosing to stream and record funeral services.

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