Florida funeral worker spends life dealing with virus deaths


Miami (AFP)

For one young funeral home assistant in Florida, his social life has been dead -- his main human interactions are with deceased coronavirus victims at his workplace.

But he doesn't regret his isolation.

The pandemic is "bigger than we are," said Bradley Georges, 26, an assistant at the Van Orsdel funeral home in Miami.

"Mentally it's tough, trust me. But as far as not seeing family and friends right now, I understand," he told AFP.

Florida, with a poulation of about 21 million, has recorded more than 5,000 COVID-19 deaths.

About 10,000 new cases are currently reported a day, a quarter of them in Miami, according to official figures.

Florida, along with Texas and Arizona, have been become a new virus epicenters in the United States.

Georges's constant exposure to the virus means that he has not been near his mother for five months. Instead he has moved to a sort of utility room in the back of the house that he shares with his brother.

Georges has even stopped meeting in-person with everyone he knows, saying that it's to keep them safe.

"It's my duty to serve my community and do what I love to do in spite of me not being able to see my own family and friends," he said.

"It's not about me. This pandemic is bigger than I am, bigger than we are."

The situation in Florida seems to be getting worse by the minute: hospitals are running out of beds, and remdesivir, the anti-viral drug being used to treat the virus, is in short supply.

Lines for COVID-19 testing are sometimes blocks long, and results take up to 10 days to come back, during which time sick people can easily infect others.

- Grayest state -

Since the pandemic began there have been about 25 to 30 percent more deaths in Miami, said Donald Van Orsdel, president of the funeral home that bears his name. With five branches, it's Miami's largest such service.

"We've had a few big traditional funerals, but nowhere near as many as we used to," he told AFP.

Due to delays in permits to cremate the deceased, Van Orsdel's refrigeration units are full of bodies, forcing the businessman to consider "alternate storage" options.

In Tampa, on Florida's west coast, the morgue was recently equipped with six refrigerated containers to handle the overflow of bodies. Miami took similar steps in April.

Florida is sometimes nicknamed the "grayest state" because of the high number of retirees living there, attracted by the balmy weather.

According to US Census Bureau figures 21 percent of the state's population is over age 65 -- an alarming concentration of people in the age group most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

According to Van Orsdel, most of the virus fatalities brought to his funeral homes have been elderly people.