Georgia 'last responders' brace for expected surge in COVID-19 deaths

Funeral homes nationwide are frantically reviewing their inventory of body bags, caskets and PPE, as they brace for a surge in COVID-19 deaths, supercharged by the holidays.

Record highs in coronavirus cases sound off the New Year in Georgia and many states alike. Health experts fear what that could mean for the death rate in weeks to come.

"We're only in the sixth day of the year, and we have had probably about 40 calls from families since Jan. 1," said Gregory Levett Sr., who owns four metro Atlanta funeral homes.


Gregory B. Levett and Sons Funeral Home saw a 40 percent increase in inquiries in 2020 compared to their average year of business.

"It's a lot of people we talked to three or four months ago, and they're back again with other loved ones," Levett said. "It's very hard on the families as well as the employees."

Nearby at A.S. Turner, coolers help alleviate over-capacity at local hospitals' morgues.

The pandemic has proved to be taxing for those from the frontline to the last one because as embalmers are helping families through their grief, some are also dealing with their own.

"The psychological is very heavy on our staff and on our employees," said Bill Hightower, president of Georgia Funeral Directors Association. "The long hours, the extended time periods, it can get depressing."

Hightower, who heads Hightower Family Funeral Homes, said one of his employees was forced to set back a loved one's funeral numerous times, as the virus spread within his family.

Such challenges are something so many grieving households have faced -- delayed, restricted, and virtual ceremonies, a fundamental change to how we honor the dead.

Yet still, these 'last responders' hold out hope for better days ahead.

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"This too shall pass," Levett said, urging people to practice patience and safety precautions until it does.

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