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Vaccine rollout has surprising effect on local funeral homes

Vaccine rollout has surprising effect on local funeral homes

Oregon (WKOW) -- While new hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have been rising, new coronavirus deaths in Wisconsin have stayed very low, which means funeral homes haven't been nearly as busy as they were last year.

"We have not seen that as of yet, but last year, even though we saw spikes in COVID throughout the year, we didn't feel it until really the end of the year," Mike Smits, the general manager of Gunderson Funeral Homes, said.

Smits said services at Gunderson Funeral Homes rose sharply toward the end of 2020.

"We had 108 families that we served that had COVID loss, most of that was as the end of October through December," he said.

State health officials reported more than 5700 COVID-19 deaths in 2020, and many of those families received help from FEMA to pay for those funerals.

So far, more than 3,800 people have applied for aid, and FEMA has given out more than $11 million to 1738 applicants.

Since vaccine rollout began, fewer families have needed FEMA assistance at Gunderson Funeral Home because there have been fewer funerals.

"In the past few months, the numbers have gone down dramatically," Smits said. "I think, since January, we've seen a downward trend."

Some of the funerals Smits is now seeing had to be rescheduled from last year due to COVID-19 mandates limiting indoor gathering sizes.

He said the average cost of a funeral ranges from $7,000 to $14,000. He said families whose loved ones died from COVID-19 are eligible for up to $9000 in FEMA help.

To apply for funeral assistance from FEMA, you can call 844-684-6333. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.

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