funeral homes

Crawford-Bowers Funeral Home in Killeen is seen Friday. Funeral homes are among the businesses affected by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order.

Funeral homes in Killeen and throughout Bell County are experiencing waves of backlog due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s delta variant. While some deaths aren’t associated with the pandemic, it has led to a significant rise in deaths all over the nation.

According to a Centers for Disease Control mortality report from April 2021, the CDC estimated that the average death rates in the nation have risen by approximately 15.9% in 2020. This increase included non-COVID deaths.

Crawford-Bowers Funeral Home has locations in Killeen, Temple and Copperas Cove and provides both funeral and cremation services. Funeral home directors there are experiencing a surplus at all three locations and are doing everything they can to keep up with the increase.

“I’ve been doing thing for 41 years and I have never seen anything like this,” said Dan Carter, the longtime funeral director at Crawford-Bowers in Killeen.

Carter explained that they keep track of the funerals they are organizing with a large board where they display the names of the deceased. Before the pandemic, that board would usually have about 30 names on it at any one time. But since then, that board has 50 to 70 obituaries at any given time, he said.

The increase has also led to a longer turnaround time between the death and when the funeral takes place, Carter said. Before the pandemic, that was about four to six days. Now, that time has increased to seven to 14 days.

Carter said the number of deaths the funeral home has seen in recent weeks is perhaps an all-time high since the pandemic was first reported in Bell County in March 2020.

Fueled by the delta variant in the late summer, 182 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported by the Bell County Public Health District since July 31 of this year.

Crawford-Bowers isn’t the only funeral business that is seeing the increase.

Affordable Burial & Cremation offers services in the Killeen and Austin and runs its own crematorium. Owner Robert Falcon explained that cremation has become more requested in recent years and even more so during the pandemic. However, there is going to be a delay when residents choose to cremate loved ones.

“In Texas, there is a checklist that bodies have to go through before it can be cremated. They need death certificates, permits, a judge to sign off on the process and a few more regulations before they can go on with the cremation,” Falcon said. “Not to mention that there is only one crematorium in Temple that services all the funeral homes in Bell County. Cremating one body takes around three hours then they have to clean and prep the furnace for the next one. When 30 funeral homes deliver 30 bodies to be cremated in one day, there is not enough time in the day to get every person done. This is why families are having to wait longer before they can get their loved one’s ashes.”

Falcon said that at the beginning of the pandemic, some crematoriums had a turnaround time of three months.

“I think the longest wait time we had for families was four weeks,” he said. “Right now, the estimated turn around time for families to get their loved one’s ashes is about three weeks.”

Affordable Burial & Cremation recently added another cremator — a furnace used in the cremation process — which will help with demand in the Austin and Killeen areas, Falcon added.

Heritage Funeral Home in Harker Heights has also been busy with the increased demand.

Co-owner Jason Fulton estimated Heritage 25% busier within the last year compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

“We just ask that families bear with the funeral homes,” Fulton said. “We want to give every family our full attention but with so many families coming at the same time, it is hard to give them everything they need right away.”

As of this week, the Bell County Public Health District has reported 653 total COVID-19 deaths since March 2020, when officials say the pandemic began in the local area.

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