Outdoor graveside burials limited to 5 people during 2-week pause


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Grieving families are being forced to make difficult decisions as new restrictions during Rhode Island’s two-week pause say only five people can attend outdoor graveside burials.

Holly Susi of Providence lost her mother to COVID-19 this week and said she was surprised to learn she couldn’t have the 18-person outdoor burial like she had planned. Susi is now pleading to Gov. Gina Raimondo to rethink the restrictions as she prepares to bury her mother.

Susi’s 86-year-old mother, Janet Gringas, started to develop symptoms of COVID-19 after a recent hospital stay. About a month later, her family says she died due to complications from the virus.

As Susi planned her funeral, she says she was trying to do the right thing and plan to hold the services outside.

“We can’t figure out the logic,” she said. “We don’t want to say to her grandchildren that they can’t go to the outdoor services of their beloved grandmother.”

Wakes and calling hours at funeral homes are also banned during the pause. Houses of worship, however, are able to hold indoor funeral services at 25% capacity.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health, explained that houses of worship like churches have a more structured setting than at a graveside.

“We know that in a house of worship, people can be seated at a distance, staff can ensure that mask-wearing is happening, and people can be screened for symptoms at the door,” Wendelken said. “There is not this same structure at a graveside.”

Wendelken went on to say that even though being outside is safer than indoors, “there are risks associated with unstructured outdoor gatherings at which people may gather with others from outside their household.”

Susi believes the restriction is unfair and targets people trying to do the right thing.

“A cathedral can have over 100 people, I’m certain, at 25% capacity, but we can’t have 10 at a graveside,” she said. “It’s a terrible injustice for grieving families.”

The limit at outdoor graveside funerals prior to the two-week pause was 15, according to the Health Department.

Raimondo said she will analyze the data once the pause ends to determine if the tightened restrictions will continue or be lifted.

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