Sheriff struggles as undertaker amid COVID deaths

Shane Ferrari is the sheriff of San Juan County in New Mexico, but since his father died of Covid-19 last December, he's also taken over the family business - running a funeral parlor.

Now Ferrari works to secure enough coffins and shelving for COVID-19 victims who are stacking up at the family funeral home.

"What you're seeing today is what our community is experiencing, specifically in funeral homes as we're becoming overwhelmed in our coolers, just lack of resources in taking care of the decedents in our area."

Ferrari says he has been "overrun" with bodies as San Juan suffers one of the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in New Mexico. Like other U.S. counties topping virus death rankings, San Juan is rural, has pockets of very low vaccination and voted overwhelmingly for former President Donald Trump in 2020.

Ferrari's funeral parlor is getting around three times as many bodies as normal, about three quarters of them COVID-19 deaths. He plans to buy an extra refrigerated unit at the weekend.

"I do have my obligations as sheriff but also there's a necessity for me to help out the family business and help out the community as we deal with the high number of deaths we're experiencing from COVID in our community."

New Mexico is among the poorest U.S. states, and sometimes Ferrari will take hunting gear or household goods as a down payment from a family who cannot afford the $1,895 he charges for a cremation.

At the nearby Kirtland Fruitland Cemetery, a high schooler operates a backhoe to keep up with COVID-19 burials. DELANEY WASHBURN is the third generation of her family to dig graves as a community service.

"I'm not a nurse or any of those people. I like to give back in any way I can. This is how I've been able to help during this time."

In just over a year, they have excavated as many sites as they would normally in 10 to 15 years, says her mother, Penny Washburn.

"As a 17-year-old, she spent her senior year in the backhoe digging graves. Her and my son, who is a deputy in the sheriff's office, so in his spare time, he comes and digs as well."

Sheriff Ferrari, who previously had COVID-19, has seen friends losing loved ones to the virus "over and over" and urges residents to stay at home and mask up if they do not want to get vaccinated. He himself plans to get vaccinated this month.

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