Family says funeral home mocked them over mask usage request

Published 9:46 pm Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Louisiana family mourning the loss of a relative to COVID-19 says they were mocked at a funeral home for asking others to wear masks.

Peter Guarisco IV, of Lafayette, said his family asked the funeral home to enforce the governor’s mask mandate, only to be silenced by a manager, who eventually called police in an attempt to resolve the situation, The Advocate reported.

“He really flipped it around on us,” Guarisco said. “He made it feel like what we’re asking, just to abide by the mandate, was being disrespectful of the other families in the place that were grieving.”

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Guarisco said they had just lost his 73-year-old father, Peter “David” Guarisco III, two days earlier from the very same virus the mask mandate is meant to slow the spread of.

Guarisco said he and his family were surprised to see other gatherings happening at the crowded Martin & Castille Funeral Home in Lafayette on Monday during visitation hours for his father.

“I guess I foolishly assumed there would be just one at a time because of the pandemic,” Guarisco said. “And most of these people weren’t masked.”

When he asked other mourning families to wear masks, he said he was met with mockery.

“Some people had a mask in their hand and wouldn’t put them on. Others said they had a breathing condition and laughed in our face,” Guarisco said. “We made it very clear that we were there because our family member had COVID. We didn’t make it a secret.”

When he requested the funeral home’s management enforce the state’s mask mandate, Guarisco said he was silenced and the police were called. The responding officer, however, said he could do nothing to enforce the mandate.

The family is speaking out about their experience in an attempt to raise awareness about why the community spread of the novel coronavirus remains high in Acadiana.

“It seems like our community has kind of gone asleep at the wheel at the worst part of the pandemic,” Guarisco said. “We’re never going to get our dad back, but we want to encourage good behavior and alert people to where the dangers are in our community.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ mask mandate and other coronavirus restrictions are enforced by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The Guarisco family’s complaint is the only formal one that has been made against Martin & Castille, according to records from the Fire Marshal’s Office.

Ashley Rodrigue, a spokeswoman for the Fire Marshal’s Office, said authorities could visit the funeral home and possibly take action if more complaints come in and if the problem is not subsequently addressed.

Louisiana’s current coronavirus restrictions allow funeral homes to hold indoor services at 75% of the capacity of the facility.

Funeral homes and other businesses must post signage about face masks and social distancing. Management is also expected to enforce those rules.

It’s rare that a business faces consequences for noncompliance with the state’s coronavirus restrictions, however. It takes a willful violation of protocol for a business to face legal action. When threatened with a lawsuit, most business owners agree to comply.

Martin & Castille’s did not return the newspaper’s messages for comment.

Peter Guarisco said his family is less interested in criticizing the funeral home and more interested in starting a conversation about how these kinds of situations are going to result in more people getting sick and losing loved ones.

“I don’t want to beat up on any business. I’m not a cancel culture guy,” he said. “This is just one terrible example of our community not doing the right thing. It’s not going to get us out of the pandemic. There are surely other instances of this happening, and we want to zoom out and heal the community. We want Lafayette to be better.”