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For three weeks running, about 80 Rhode Islanders have died in connection with COVID-19. For context -- the average for the past five years is just under 200 deaths per week. 

Matt Pichi works at Providence Memorial Funeral Home in the largely Latino community of South Providence and Sperry & McHoul Funeral Home in North Attleboro. He says both have seen a surge in calls.  

Matt Pichi: Because you get your regular calls that are not corona-related. Now we're getting all these coronavirus-related deaths on top of that. So it's just a little crazy right now. I would say we're doing probably double what we would normally do because of this.

Sofia Rudin: How are you -- yourself and your coworkers -- keeping up with the level of work? 

Pichi: I've been working a lot of twelve hour days. Drinking a lot of coffee, you know… This past week I've worked a handful of times where I was working ‘til 1:00 in the morning, and I started at 8:00 in the morning. 

And the nurses and the healthcare workers, doctors, they're obviously the real heroes here. But, funeral homes, funeral directors, we're like the last first responders because we're directly responsible for how the person is taken care of, and we're the last form of defense as far as if it spreads from that person. 

Rudin: And I know it must be very, very tough for families. Can you talk about what you're hearing from the families you work with? 

Pichi: Well, yeah. This is hard on them, too, because they haven't been able to see a lot of these people. If they're in a nursing home or in the hospital, they can't even go see them. So now we've been trying to have some private viewings-- you know, limited people, five at a time in Rhode Island-- so they can come in and pay their last respects to the person, see the person, because they haven't been able to see them because there's no visitors allowed in nursing homes and hospitals right now. 

And the families are obviously devastated. And then the worst part from our perspective is that they can't grieve how they normally would. They may not get the [same] level of closure right away. 

They can't-- like especially in North Attleboro, we deal with a lot of Catholic families that they want to have a Mass. And the churches, the Diocese, it's not open. And so they can't have a Mass and who knows when they'll be able to. And we've buried some devout Catholic people. 

We have some people who want to hold the person for at least a few weeks so that they can bring the body to church. But their traditions of grieving, how they normally would have a funeral, they can't do it right now. So that only adds insult to injury, in the sense that, you know, this person was taken from them and then they have to deal with these restrictions, with their loved one’s funeral service and burial and whatever. You know what I mean?

Rudin: Five people is not many. 

Pichi: Right. And they have to pick and choose. We've actually seen in Providence - especially with some of the families we deal with here, they're very tight-knit, large extended families. And the extended families, especially with the Latino community, the extended family is… you know if you have like someone, they have nieces that they were close to and they can't be there because they have to kind of just keep it to the kids and immediate family because of this. So they can't have -- these funerals that would normally be large, gigantic funerals, now you see like five people. 

We've been doing some where they'll allow -- like say we go to a cemetery, they'll let a few people, like four or five people, be near the grave and then the rest have to -- they can come in, but they have to wait by their car and be distanced.

But we're in the business of asking people, “What can we do for you?” And right now, it's like, “No, we can't do this for you or that for you.” So it's tough, you know.  

Rudin: What do you hope the next couple weeks bring?

Pichi: I hope this ends. I have friends of mine who say, "You must be really busy with all this stuff that’s going on.” It’s like yeah, but it’s unfortunate. We don't want to be busy for this reason. You know what I mean? We can't give people the service that we normally do. And we're not happy about that.