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Cremations continue to increase in Alaska as COVID impacts the funeral service industry

More Alaskans are turning to cremation over traditional burials, and COVID-19 has shown a need...
More Alaskans are turning to cremation over traditional burials, and COVID-19 has shown a need for funeral homes to change the way business is run.(Rebecca Palsha)
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 3:16 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - More Alaskans are turning to cremation over traditional burials, and COVID-19 has shown a need for funeral homes to change the way businesses are operated.

“There’s a strain on the whole system and I think that is a challenge, but it’s certainly something that we’ve, you know, we’re increased our staff, we’ve really worked hard to make sure that we’re there and prepared for it,” said Jordan Eastman with Janssen Funeral Homes. “We’re been at this for a while with COVID now.”

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, more than 57% of people are expected to chose cremation over burials this year and by 2040, it’s expected to be almost 80%. The Cremation Association of North America reports that 58% of U.S. deaths resulted in cremations during the first six months of the pandemic, a 2.74% increase from all of 2019.

COVID-19 has also impacted funeral services in the fact that they now include Zoom, and fewer people are traveling to Alaska for a burial.

“The COVID pandemic has been hard on the funeral industry in Alaska. With modern equipment and procedures, we at the Cremation Society of Alaska have not had any massive backlog on any cremations over the pandemic,” Dominic Hasara with the Cremation Society of Alaska wrote in an email. “Cremation has definitely increased as an option for final disposition here in Alaska.”

Legacy Funeral Homes reports longer wait times for cremations because of an increase in demand.

Eastman said Alaskans have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to choosing cremations.

“Seems like more and more people over the years, since cremation first started to become popular, the numbers have certainly grown more towards cremation,” Eastman said.

Eastman said some parts of Alaska, such as people who live in Villages, tend to be more traditional and chose burials. He also says many people are creating new traditions that include cremation.

“We’ve always had in Alaska a fairly higher cremation rate than the rest of the country,” Eastman said.

Many factors impact a person’s decision for a cremation over burial including costs, environmental concerns and people no longer living in the states where the grew up.

According to the NFDA, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and a burial in 2019 was between $7,000 to about $9,000, compared to about $5,000 for a viewing and a cremation.

Eastman said COVID-19 also means funeral homes are operating at different hours to accommodate families who live Outside.

“I think more so the challenges of just making sure that families feel safe and families get out of the services what they want,” Eastman said.

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