Henrico County funeral home manager explains why staff are essential, first responders; received COVID-19 vaccine

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Throughout the pandemic, Virginians and millions across the country have heard the term “first responders,” probably more than they ever have before.

Marlow Waller, Manager of March Funeral Homes in Henrico County, said one important industry is often left out in those conversations.

“What we do on a daily basis, we are first responders,” he said.

Waller shared that he and others that work at March Funeral Homes are at risk of contracting the coronavirus on a day-to-day basis.

“We are in direct contact with families, sometimes loved ones that have passed from the coronavirus,” he said. “Embalmer, the mortuary staff work with the family’s loved ones, so they are exposed to the virus as well.”

He said the funeral home operates on guidelines authorized by Governor Ralph Northam by state mandate, as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are allowing full services, underneath the mandated law, that gives certain restrictions that we follow,” Waller said. “To make sure that all family members and friends are still protected.”

He said keeping clients safe during the pandemic means the funeral home’s staff has to take care of themselves. With protection top of mind, Waller said he and the staff at March Funeral Homes received Moderna, one of the approved U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) coronavirus vaccines.

“The first dose for March Funeral Homes was given out yesterday,” Waller said. “You hear rumors about side effects – I can let you know that I am fine and well.”

Waller continued to express his feelings about why the vaccine is important, not only for his staff but for the entire community.

“I recommend everyone that can take it, do take it,” he said. “Especially if you’re exposed to the elements out here.”

Waller shared that due to the pandemic, the funeral home industry has become creative in order to deliver services for their clients. He said although March Funeral Homes isn’t taking away any services they provide to the community, for the safety of everyone, the experience might not look how clients first envisioned.

“With March Funeral Homes, it’s all about adapting, so we had to adapt in order to continue to serve our families to the fullest,” he said. “Because we know we aren’t at full capacity we have moved up to live streaming where the families are able to go to the March website and view the homegoing celebration the day of.”

In a statement on the Virginia Funeral Directors Association’s website, the organization said they are working to have their members recognized as essential workers. In that same statement, the group said they sent a letter requesting the change to Gov. Northam on Dec. 14.

Waller said he and his colleagues who received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 19 will be administered the second dose in February.

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