How COVID-19 death care can affect the economy in many ways

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Today (which is Tuesday-as I usually write these columns a day ahead of time) in Minnesota is a warm, humid morning with threats of rain.  I usually take a run every morning and because of the weather I did so indoors on the treadmill while flashing the television between CNBC and Fox News.

The television stations were telling of what looked like a pre-market rally in stocks and also were consumed with the opening of the American economy over the Memorial Day weekend.  Of great debate to the commentators was the speed of how the economy will open in the next few months.

It was interesting to listen to the talking heads and what they thought is about to happen in the American economy.  Without taking a side on the issue, I will tell you what was said.  One group predicted that the economy will bounce back faster than ever thought possible and will give President Trump great tailwinds as he moves into the November election.

Another talking head opined that would not happen because Democratic controlled states California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey, according to him, carry almost 40% of the American economy within their borders and their governors will “slow play” the openings of those states in order to keep the economy from getting into a growth mode and prevent President Trump from getting those tailwinds.

You can take or leave those “macro” comments, but I enjoyed thinking about them and what COVID-19, not the disease, but the effects of our reaction to the disease, has meant to our “psyche” and everyday life.

Following my run, I started looking for current articles that may hone in on that thought.  And, I came across this article from the Wenatchee (WA) World Herald concerning the concerns of “guest” workers from Mexico coming to help with the State of Washington agricultural chores this summer.  Just so you know who I am talking about  – not so long ago these “guest” workers would have been called migrant workers.

According to some information that I found, the State of Washington produces about 65% of our country’s $2.4 billion fresh apple crop, as well as produces cherries, peaches, berries, and other fruit.  So, it is not a small job to get all of that harvested.  And, the state will bring in about 20,000 guest workers to help do so.

As pointed out, all of these guest workers come from Mexico where the majority religion is Roman Catholic.  These potential first generation immigrants generally believe in two things when it comes to their mortality.  They want to be buried and they want to be buried in their native Mexico.

That belief is causing concern among the guest workers and the COVID-19 pandemic.  As you may know, Washington state has been one of the original United States “hotspots” for coronavirus – albeit mostly in nursing homes.  And, according to the article, the Mexican consulate has stated that repatriation (going back to Mexico) to most Mexican states following death will be done by cremation only as a precaution with COVID-19.  i.e. most Mexican states will not allow full body transport into Mexico.

That thought process is causing a dilemma for many potential guest workers.  Do they risk coming to America for work?.  . and if they happen to die from COVID-19, they theoretically cannot be buried as their religion would have them prefer?  It is a dilemma that they have to deal with. . . and a dilemma that may make a difference in the price of apples and fruits in grocery stores all over America.

It is amazing to me how our (and other countries) reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is upending our society – maybe more so than the disease itself.  Also, this morning I received a call from our funeral home manager on the capacity of our chapel.  In Minnesota we have now went from 10 people at a gathering to 25% of capacity at a gathering.  By the way, I could not remember our chapel capacity limit, but did remember, when building,  that we had to provide 1 parking spot for every 4 chapel chairs, so I told the manager to count the parking stalls and multiply by four for our normal chapel capacity.

I believe in trying to keep health for the greatest number of people during this pandemic.  However, as the guest worker dilemma shows, the decisions authorities make in public policy have far reaching ramifications to others. . . .even in thought processes that these authorities don’t ever think about — like death care choices.

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