Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is lifting a ban on funerals that was part of his coronavirus stay-at-home order Monday, although strict restrictions will still apply to funeral services.

Inslee’s emergency order prohibited all social, spiritual and recreational gatherings, including weddings and funerals. The state Department of Licensing (DOL) had sent a memo to death-care providers on March 19 with the message: “Funerals are not permitted at this time … cemeteries should restrict interment services to ‘delivery only.'”

Those actions sowed confusion and consternation among families, cemetery operators, faith leaders and funeral directors, causing heartbreak in some situations.

On Saturday, Inslee announced that funerals may take place in funeral homes or at cemetery gravesides as long as the services are attended only by immediate family members of the deceased, and as long as the attendees maintain proper social distancing by staying at least six feet apart.

Those instructions were included in a new memo from the DOL to death-care providers. The memo also clarified that Inslee’s order allows embalming to continue.

“We’re going to have a lot of changes to these orders as time goes on,” the governor said when asked about funerals Saturday at a news conference welcoming U.S. Army medical troops to Seattle. “We’ll be flexible throughout this system.”

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“What I heard was some heart-wrenching stories in the last 24 hours of people who lost loved ones and could not stand the thought of not being present,” Inslee added.

He asked mourners to still try to limit numbers of people at funerals and to adhere to social distancing recommendations in order to prevent more people from contracting the virus.

“We don’t need any more funerals in the state of Washington,” he said.

Real estate

The governor also announced additional guidance for real estate transactions,specifying exactly what activities can and can’t continue. “While real estate activities along with mortgage lending activities have been approved as essential activities” and are allowed to continue under his stay-at-home order, there still are limitations, Inslee said in a memo.

In-person meetings with customers are prohibited except when necessary for a customer to view a property or sign necessary documents; no real estate open houses are permitted; and property viewings, inspections, appraisals and final walk-throughs must be arranged by appointment and limited to no more than two people on site at any time, exercising social distancing at all times .Otherwise, all new real estate listings are to be handled remotely.

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which coordinates homebuying activity in King, Pierce, Snohomish and 20 other Washington counties, advised brokers March 23 they wouldn’t be allowed to conduct in-person showings under Inslee’s order. The governor’s guidance Saturday means in-person showings, inspections and appraisals can happen, clearing the way for about 17,000 pending sales to close and for new sales.

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Tribal lands

 Also Saturday, Inslee stressed that none of the provisions of his emergency order apply to tribal lands.

“Tribal governments, as sovereign nations, are making their own decisions in response to the current COVID-19 emergency,” he wrote in a memo to tribal leaders.

Inslee said constituents have asked his office about people who commute to and work at businesses on tribal lands.

“While I have defined essential activities … in Washington, tribal leaders maintain sovereignty to define essential activity on tribal lands,” the governor wrote.

“Accordingly, if tribal governments classify certain activity or business on their lands as ‘essential’ … Washingtonians may leave their homes to pursue those essential activities on tribal lands — even if those activities are not considered essential on non-tribal lands.”

Staff reporter Katherine Khashimova Long contributed to this story. 

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