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Omaha funeral director heads to New York to help with surge in deaths during coronavirus outbreak

Omaha funeral director heads to New York to help with surge in deaths during coronavirus outbreak

As the coronavirus sweeps through the New York City area, funeral homes have found themselves overwhelmed by the number of bodies needing burial or cremation.

“This is a state of emergency,” New York funeral director Pat Marmo said earlier this month. “We need help.”

And help is coming. Hundreds of people in the funeral business are volunteering to help in New York, including Omaha funeral director Corey T. Starr.

On Monday, Starr was on his way to New York to help a Queens funeral home with cremations. Starr is funeral director at Neptune Cremation Service in Ralston, a branch of a Florida-based company that specializes in cremations.

Starr, 40, is married and has a blended family of six children. He said he made the decision after consulting with his wife, Sarah.

“It was a hard call,” he said. “I was raised that if a man asks for help, you help them. I did have to explain to the children that it’s not that Dad wants to leave, it’s that people really need help.”

Starr volunteers in his Minne Lusa neighborhood of North Omaha. Last year, he organized the Halloween on the Boo-levard event that drew upward of 3,000 children.

More than 10,000 people have died in New York. And Queens, where Starr is headed, is a hot spot in a city that has emerged as the coronavirus epicenter in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Marmo took a reporter on a tour of the basement of his Brooklyn-based funeral home where bodies were stacked on shelves and gurneys.

His company is equipped to handle 40 to 60 cases at a time, he said. On this day at the start of the month, it was taking care of 185.

Starr said he anticipates he’ll spend his time processing paperwork so that local funeral directors can spend more time with families.

“They need somebody to keep the administrative side moving so they can invest time with the families,” he said. “Paperwork is part of the job.”

That paperwork and phone calls include getting the necessary permits to do cremation, making sure the funeral home is correctly carrying out the family’s wishes, being sure personal possessions are logged and getting death certificates filed.

“It’s not just the funeral homes, it’s the families,” Starr said. “You have people who have lost the somebody they love, they need to know they have someone there to help them. ... When your funeral director is struggling to keep up, that can reflect on how the family feels they are being treated. These are people who are grieving.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.