Daniel Zhao

As the COVID-19 pandemic has increased burdens on funeral homes and their staff, Yale has designated empty dorms to funeral home workers and currently hosts six such staff members self-isolating from their families.

Yale originally announced on March 28 that it would clear 300 dorm room beds on campus for first responders after Mayor Justin Elicker criticized the University for rejecting his initial request. Under that promise, Yale initially housed two firefighters. But concerns about possible COVID-19 infections at local funeral homes prompted the University to classify funeral home staff as first responders, opening dorms to them as well. Currently, there are six staff members from the McClam Funeral Home self-isolating in Yale dorms.

“This developed as a result of the Yale Police Department’s existing relationship with the local clergy. Because of this relationship, Reverend Boise Kimber reached out to inform us of the situation with New Haven funeral home workers who were handling the bodies of those who had died from COVID-19,” Yale Police Department Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 wrote in an email to the News. “We were able to extend housing to these workers so that they could implement social distancing while still doing their much-needed jobs. This keeps their families safe from being exposed to COVID-19.”

On March 27, Elicker announced at a press conference that Yale had rejected an earlier request from Elicker to open 150 dorm rooms to New Haven first responders. The next day, amid widespread criticism of the University’s decision, University President Peter Salovey announced that Yale would provide 300 beds for first responders in the Elm City. Most of those 300 beds are located in Morse, Ezra Stiles, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges. As of publication, only eight community members have been housed in the cleared dorms.

At least 24 New Haven first responders are staying in dorms at the University of New Haven in West Haven after City Hall partnered with UNH following Yale’s initial rejection of Elicker’s request. One firefighter from New Haven and another from West Haven are currently staying at Yale.

“When [Yale] started talking about first responders and opening doors for first responders. I said to myself that the funeral home is the last responder,” the Rev. Boise Kimber told the News. “We must try our very best to take care of the funeral home workers and their families.”

Kimber said that he had previously contacted President Pro Tempore of the Connecticut state Senate Martin Looney to express his worries for funeral home workers. He also connected McClam staff, including owner and manager Darrell McClam, to Yale through a clergy group that includes Campbell.

Campbell told the News that the University is not expecting any additional funeral home workers to use the open beds moving forward. Kimber also said he did not have any knowledge about other funeral homes that intend to use Yale housing for their staff.

As the pandemic has unfurled rapidly, funeral home staff still face many unknowns, including how long the novel coronavirus can remain active in deceased bodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Funeral Directors Association have released guidelines with regards to appropriate personal protective equipment, orPPE, for embalming and transporting bodies infected with COVID-19. New Haven funeral directors, including McClam and Howard K. Hill, are still awaiting more information outside of those directives.

During Monday’s coronavirus press briefing from Elicker and other City Hall staff, Director of Emergency Operations Rick Fontana said that he considers funeral home staff to be “front-line workers” and “entitled to the same testing that first responders get.” In addition, the city is working to ensure that funeral homes that need PPE are able to access it.

Still, according to Health Director Maritza Bond, the city is not keeping track of funeral home workers that have been tested nor does it have a directory of employees for each funeral home in the Elm City.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Elicker said that City Hall is still “in negotiations with Yale’s lawyers” to come to an agreement about New Haven public safety individuals staying in Yale rooms.

The McClam Funeral Home is located at 95 Dixwell Ave.

 

Jose Davila IV | jose.davilaiv@yale.edu