A local Black-owned funeral home in Albany, Georgia, is shocked to learn they unknowingly hosted two funerals that reportedly infected at least 20 people with coronavirus including the pastor who delivered one of the eulogies. Sadly, that pastor has since died from COVID-19.
Local health officials say that the outbreak began shortly after the funerals for 64-year old retired janitor Andrew J. Mitchell and another unnamed man. Both funerals were attended by their relatives and friends, and at least one person who attended was infected causing others to also become infected.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there are at least 490 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 29 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Dougherty County, which is home to Albany, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“It took one person, whoever that was, and there was no intent,” Scott Steiner, CEO of Albany’s largest hospital told CNN. “It shows this virus can quickly spread.”
The Georgia Department of Health confirmed that the virus spread among “individuals who attended a number of events in Albany.” The department added, however, that it is not yet 100% clear “where or with whom it all started.”
Mitchell’s 75-year old long-time partner Emell Murray was one of those infected with the coronavirus. She was hospitalized for fever and high blood pressure a few days after Mitchell’s funeral.
So how did all this start?
Authorities have reportedly traced the townwide outbreak to a 67-year old man who traveled from Atlanta to attend one of the funerals. He reported being sick and was hospitalized in Albany.
“The next day it’s when we began seeing people coming to our emergency room who were sick,” Steiner said. “Two (people) the first day, six the next day, eight the next day, and it just began to cascade from that point.”
A statement from the funeral home and the governor
The Martin Luther King Memorial Chapel, which hosted the two funerals on February 29 and March 7 respectively, released a statement after they were notified by the health department officials of the possible spread of the virus on March 13.
“Although we have been identified as a common factor in the tracking of the COVID-19 in Albany, know that we are operating within all regulatory safety or health guidelines,” the funeral home directors wrote in a Facebook post. “We know that there is a growing concern across the city. We are taking extra precautions to protect you, our staff and the communities we serve.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp expressed his concern about the rapid increase of coronavirus cases in Albany in a press conference, citing the importance of complying with the stay-at-home order in the state.
“I believe there was a funeral service weeks ago where an infected person went, and it created this whole epicenter which just exploded down there,” Kemp said. “That’s one of the reasons we have been begging people to not have — and I know it’s a hard thing — religious services.”