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Last responders are also heroes of the pandemic

Funeral workers are the unsung workers behind the scenes, handling burials and cremations of those who die from coronavirus.

ATLANTA — Frontline workers and first responders have been our lifelines during the coronavirus pandemic. However, there are also many unsung heroes working on the back lines.

Last responders like funeral director Carol Williams have been there since day one to answer the phone when families call, desperate to have their loved ones buried.

"I’ve been looking for body bags for about three months," said Carol Williams, Executive Director of the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association.

Williams explains that she’s had trouble finding body bags and other equipment. Since funeral homes are not first responders, they are not first on the list to get those critical supplies. That hasn’t kept her from working nonstop.

“I watched the news this morning and it is over 157,000 deaths and each one of those deaths have gone to a funeral home, a crematorium,” said Williams.

She says some funeral homes are having to turn families away because they do not have the space in their facilities.

“In some cases, their family members are buried somewhere where they don't want them to be, simply because there was no room for them in any funeral home,” said Williams.

To save space, Carol says many families are forced to cremate their loved ones, even if they wanted a burial.

Beyond the constantly ringing phone and helplessness, is the fear of catching the virus. Williams and her team are exposed to the disease when preparing the dead bodies.

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“I think society forgets that when we're dealing with a disease, a virus, that virus is still alive when that person dies. So we still have to make sure that we're protected, so we don’t get the disease,” said Williams.

They use the same PPE as hospitals. They require masks, face shields, and shoe coverings to stay protected. These supplies, as with the body bags, are hard to come by.

“As last responders, we're the last to get the PPE. We can't get the disinfectants that we need,” said Williams.

In the meantime, Williams says she prays and does the best she can.

“It has really been horrific, but you can't stop. You have to be there,” said Williams.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus.  We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.

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