York could see as many as 1,600 coronavirus deaths, according to forecasts being used by the council

An ambulance pulls in to York Hospital. Photograph: YorkMix
17 Apr 2020 @ 8.18 am
| News

City leaders are making emergency plans based on a potential York coronavirus death toll of more than 1,600 people.

The figure was revealed by City of York Council in a document published in a document clarifying the new arrangements at York Crematorium.

It says that applying national modelling for Covid-19 deaths – which is ‘not an exact science’ – to York gives a figure for potential fatalities in the city of between 721 and 1,645.

The council had originally banned mourners and funeral services at the crematorium while allowing cremations to go ahead.

But following an outcry it is now allowing close family to wait outside the building.

In a Q and A section explaining the new policy, one of the council questions is: ‘How will you ensure the resilience of Crematorium services?’ This is part of the answer:

  • The modelling on death rates is not an exact science and will depend on the infection rate, which itself depends on adherence to government guidance.

    To give a broad idea, the modelling suggests a range of COVID-19 deaths between, March and October, of 721 to 1,645.

    Crematoriums are fundamental to the regional Management of Mortality Plans, which are the council’s emergency plan to manage large numbers of deceased in a pandemic.

    Any exposure of staff to the Coronavirus, across local authorities in our region, could threaten these plans and present a different Public Health issue as the number of fatalities could back up at Funeral Directors sites and at temporary storage facilities.

Planning for all outcomes

The council says the range of anticipated fatalities was calculated using national data models applied to York in proportion to the size of its population.

These models are used to ensure council services were prepared for all eventualities and able to offer a resilient and fast-changing response too Covid-19.

The models were used to project the range of scenarios the organisation might have to face, but are subject to change.

City of York Council is drawing up plans for a temporary morgue in the area.

1. Is the risk lowered when fewer people attend?

Unfortunately, the risk is not lowered by lowering the numbers attending – the risk is related to close family members attending that could have symptoms or be carrying the Coronavirus.

Whilst social distancing and cleansing has been taking place at recent funerals, this was at a point when cases were lower and families were not allowed to visit the deceased in hospital, so likelihood of the infection spreading was lower. At the beginning of April it became clear that deaths in communities, including at home and in care homes, were increasing where the medical referee was certifying the death could be related to Coronavirus. A death at home will mean that family members are likely to have come into contact with the deceased and staff at the Crematorium are only alerted to this 24 hrs before the funeral when the medical certificates are sent through. At that point there is no way of knowing whether family members have symptoms, are carriers or have self-isolated for the required number of days before attending the funeral. This significantly concerned funeral service staff as soon as they became aware that families were attending where a Coronavirus related death had occurred in this way.

2. How will you ensure the resilience of Crematorium services?

The modelling on death rates is not an exact science and will depend on the infection rate, which itself depends on adherence to government guidance. To give a broad idea, the modelling suggests a range of COVID-19 deaths between, March and October, of 721 to 1645.

Crematoriums are fundamental to the regional Management of Mortality Plans, which are the council’s emergency plan to manage large numbers of deceased in a pandemic. Any exposure of staff to the Coronavirus, across local authorities in our region, could threaten these plans and present a different Public Health issue as the number of fatalities could back up at Funeral Directors sites and at temporary storage facilities.

3. Why are we making the changes at such short notice?

We appreciate this is very short notice, but we must take clear public health advice to ensure everyone is protected and that we limit the risk to the public, our staff and partners, including funeral directors.

There can be up to 14 services a day, with up to 10 or 5 people (depending on which chapel at the crematorium) at each service plus minister/celebrant/funeral director, meaning that in one day, over 150 people could potentially visit the crematorium. It is vital that the number of people visiting the crematoria is kept to a minimum, in order to minimise the chances of spreading coronavirus.

We have a very small skilled team providing this critical service, if they became infected we would have a further public health risk in not being able to undertake cremations at all. These changes are in line with a number of other local authorities who have taken the same action, in some cases earlier, during this unprecedented situation.

4. Has the Government intervened in these arrangements or have concerns?

No. The Council has discussed our plans in detail with the Government and they can see that we are working hard to meet families’ needs at a time of increased risk.

5. Will there be more than 14 services a day in the future?

We can increase the number of services by working overnight or at a weekend should this prove necessary during the national crisis. We are seeking to recruit additional team members from other areas of the council to supplement resources for non- technical roles to allow shift work to be planned or additional support if existing team members are affected by illness.

6. What happens if we have a service planned at the Crematorium?

The cremations will continue as planned but unfortunately, this means that services in their current form will not be able to go ahead.

Working with your funeral director you may have some of your wishes met through small celebrant-led ceremonies in chapels of rest before the cremation.

The immediate family (up to 10 in number) may wish to attend York Crematorium, remaining outside to pay their respects, similarly at Fulford Cemetery, whilst following official social distancing guidelines.

7. What options are available to me if I have an existing or future booking?

Close family members will be able to attend the Crematorium and wait for the hearse to arrive, we are working to secure a covered space for this purpose.

The minister/celebrant can spend up to 10 minutes with the family in prayer/service (and to commit the body, depending on faith practice).

The celebrant/minister can also attend alone to give a service of 10 minutes within the chapel and we will still provide a short video free of charge for those families who wish for a copy.

City of York Council staff, including York Crematorium and funeral directors, will do everything they can to meet the needs of families. Please speak to your funeral director or crematorium staff to help us meet your wishes during this difficult time.

8. Will services of remembrance be offered?

City of York Council will ensure that services of remembrance at York Crematorium will be offered to all families when restrictions are lifted and a city wide multi-faith remembrance ceremony will be held, supported by local faith leaders and the council.

9. Are there any exceptions to this new rule?

Sadly not in relation to accessing the crematorium building – these are unprecedented times. We want to ensure that the bereaved families have the opportunity to celebrate their loved one’s life and we are working to seek support from other faith agencies across the city to do this once the coronavirus outbreak is over.

There will be a limit on the number of mourners outside to 10 people, at both York Crematorium and Fulford Cemetery, who must at all times observe social distancing. The definition of immediate family is Spouse/Partner, Parents/Carers, Brothers/Sisters/Children (and partners).

10. Will we be able to collect our loved one’s ashes?

Yes, the ashes will continue to be available for collection and where the families wish to scatter these in the grounds we can arrange for this to happen once it is safe to do so.

11. Does this decision impact on burial services at Fulford Cemetery?

Graveside burial services at Fulford Cemetery are still permissible as long as families follow the rules in place which limit the number of mourners outside to 10 people, who must at all times observe social distancing. For further details visit: www.fulfordparishcouncil.org.uk.