Last responders: Funeral homes feel weight of Wisconsin COVID deaths

Dane County funeral home owner said lately families are burying more loved ones, citing a 45 percent increase in deaths.
Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 11:07 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Some Wisconsin funeral homes are feeling the weight of COVID deaths in the Badger State.

Gunderson Funeral Home staff is seeing the increase first-hand.

“We work with families on a very intimate, personal level,” Pete Gunderson, president and funeral director of Gunderson funeral home said. “We get to know families better than some of our best friends.”

The work is already hard enough watching families say goodbye to their loved ones.

“We need to reinvent as we go along,” Gunderson said.

He explained the pandemic is presenting new challenges as families grieve. There’s a capacity limit on family members attending funeral home events and social distancing requirements.

He said lately families are burying more loved ones, citing a 45 percent increase in deaths.

“That taxes on our staff. We’re on 24-hour call, it makes it difficult for us,” Gunderson said.

He said the staff is also very cautious while transporting the covid positive bodies. They wear PPE, use strong disinfectant and keep the body in isolation to reduce the risk of transmission.

Gunderson funeral home has nine locations in our viewing area. From March to Oct., the funeral homes had a total of 30 covid positive deaths. In Nov. alone they already hit 31 covid positive deaths.

“You really want to give everyone a hug and you can’t do it right now,” Gunderson said.

The grim milestone is reflected statewide.

DHS reported an additional 104 deaths since Monday bringing the total death count to 3,115.

“This is the highest number of deaths reported in a single day that we’ve had. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those we have lost,” Andrea Palm, Secretary Designee said.

Ahead of the holidays, state public health officials are urging the public to make a short term sacrifice for long term health.

“I think each of us knows someone, or knows of somebody that it’s really impacted their families and it’s time to really hunker down and see if we can hold this thing off,” Gunderson said.

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