By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — It is considered a vital record, but grieving families in Cook County are stunned to learn death certificates are not considered essential even though other counties across the state and nation are sending them out as usual.

The Vital Records Office is in Chicago’s Loop, and so far no ones been furloughed. Employees are just working from home.

So why are families going months without these vital records?

“It was just like you saw the EMTs come to your house, take your mom away and that was it,” said Wendy Habel.

In the age of COVID-19, losing her mom, Marjorie, to breast cancer last month was particularly difficult for Habel.

“There’s just a huge hole there. Just a huge, huge hole,” she said.

But one step that should have been just a few clicks for Wendy Habel has become a frustrating fiasco in Cook County.

The same thing happened to Rick Conneely, whose mother passed away in March.

“Got the order. Got the confirmation. Five days later got the cancellations,” Conneely said.

Death certificates are mandatory for banks, courts or anything having to do with their loved ones’ belongings.

For Habel it’s worse, because her mother’s home had a reverse mortgage and they have a limited amount of time to relocate.

“Other states have figured this out,” she said.

For the majority of states and counties that use the online VitalChek system, it’s been business as usual. Los Angeles County, DC Vital Records, and New York state are all processing certificates.

But Cook County is “delayed until further notice.”

“I do deserve an explanation,” Habel said.

Tuesday a spokesperson said the process isn’t fully automated. The certificates have to be printed on customized security paper, which limits their ability to provide these records from home.

These grieving families say they would have hoped that by now a socially distant work around would have been offered.

“People get creative,” said Conneely. “They find out ways to work around it, and it feels like for two months they’ve just said, not a choice.”

“People need you. They need that death certificate,” said Habel.

CBS 2 has learned that some funeral directors have been able to access these records, but their fees are often higher than the Clerk’s office.

A spokesperson for the Clerk’s office noted that they are currently working on system to expand their “urgent-request protocols.” They’re supposed to roll that out over the next few weeks.

Megan Hickey