Arlington National Cemetery continuing military funerals amid COVID-19 spread

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(ABC News) – Despite the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suspension of military funeral honors in the face of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Arlington National Cemetery said Friday it will continue to conduct funerals as scheduled.

“In unprecedented times, we keep to our mission. We’ve made adjustments to adhere to public health guidance, but funerals continue to be conducted as scheduled,” cemetery officials said in a statement.

“Families have been waiting patiently to bury their loved ones and we are continuing to accommodate this critical mission under current conditions,” the website added.

Families across the U.S. are being asked to reevaluate how they honor their loved ones by postponing or limiting the number of people who can attend funeral services.

To adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Arlington National Cemetery put new restrictions in place for families attending funerals, such as remaining in their car upon arrival before the procession heads to the gravesite.

Only 10 immediate family members will be allowed to witness an interment and the families will have the option to postpone the arrangement to a later date, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In this May 24, 2019 file photo, a U.S. Army Band bugler plays “Taps,” during burial services for a North Carolina National Guard sergeant at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va.In this May 24, 2019 file photo, a U.S. Army Band bugler plays “Taps,” during burial services for a North Carolina National Guard sergeant at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va.Alex Brandon/AP, File

The cemetery is closed to the public.

Committal services and military funeral honors were discontinued until further notice, though they may be scheduled for a later date if they hold to the internment date.

Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director for the Office of Army Cemeteries added in a statement, “I am immensely proud of the Arlington National Cemetery staff for adapting to COVID-19 conditions and overcoming these challenges. We will protect ourselves and others as we continue to honor our nation’s fallen.”

“We are committed to the safety of our Veterans, their families and employees, and have implemented an aggressive public health response to COVID-19,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “At the same time, we continue to take steps to provide flexibility to Veterans and their loved ones, where possible.”

More than 10,000 people worldwide have died from novel coronavirus and over 19,200 have been diagnosed in the U.S. across all 50 states.

Arlington National Cemetery, where 400,000 veterans have been buried, has a backlog of burials that can last a year or more. Only about 95,000 burial plots remain at the cemetery, though an expansion is expected to begin soon.

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