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Local funeral homes concerned how to carry out services amid virus outbreak

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RIO GRANDE CITY – Starr County filed a court order that forbids the gathering of 10 people or more as of Thursday. It has already enforced at gathering planned and unplanned.

Funeral homes are a place people are summoned. They will be required to keep gatherings under 10 people to a room.

Sanchez Funeral Home Director Sonata Sanchez is aware of the customs important to grieving families. She said, “Sometimes words don’t comfort. It’s more of the holding and letting them know that you’re there. A hug, or a handshake or a kiss is so much more than words.”

Swirling coronavirus concerns prompted changes at funeral homes across the country.

“It’s getting very strict, yet the family still needs to grieve," said Sanchez. "So, I’m here to try to help them in any way I can. And try to post signs that under the circumstances and due to the coronavirus, no hugging, no kissing and no shaking hands.”

If the deceased was suspected of exhibiting symptoms prior to their death, the employees are also taking additional precautions when transporting and embalming the body.

Aside from federal recommendations, Starr County implemented the mandatory 10-person limit on gatherings. Sanchez said they were anticipating this after municipalities began emitting their own declarations. “We need to start doing is just a private visitation which would include just the family.”

People are allowed to file into the chapel, 10 at a time. More people can be waiting in another room as long as it doesn't exceed the limit.

County officials are already enforcing this. Local law enforcement anywhere in Starr County are asking crowds over the limit of 10 people to disperse. If they fail to follow orders, they can be cited and fined up to $1,000. In some cases, law enforcement officers can also arrest people where they can then be jailed for up to six months. County Judge Eloy Vera expects criticism.

“If we get criticized because we didn’t do enough, and our numbers are larger than the rest of the state, or per capita, or the Valley or anywhere else, that means we failed," said Vera. "So, hopefully that will happen, that we will be criticized that we took an aggressive stand on this thing. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Vera said he's hoping the public understands the value of human life hang in the balance.

Certain gatherings will be exempted from this limit include public or private schools and places of worship, museums as long as visitors observe social distancing, bus stops, hospitals, shelters, jails and detention centers.

To learn more about mass gatherings defined by the county, can read their declaration here.

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