EL PASO (AP) — The Texas National Guard has sent a 36-member team to El Paso to assist morgues in the border region with the number of dead as a result of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
“The Texas Military will provide us with the critical personnel to carry out our fatality management plan and we are very grateful to them for their ongoing support,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said in late Friday when the deployment was announced.
The pandemic is blamed for more 300 deaths in El Paso County since October, 853 total since the pandemic began.
Jail inmates are already being paid to move bodies and county leaders are offering $27 an hour for morgue workers.
After county volunteers quickly backed away from the grueling work of moving bodies, El Paso officials turned to jail inmates, who were paid $2 an hour. The Texas Tribune reported that El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said the county asked for help from the National Guard to take over the work from inmates last week.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for support for a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew in the county, said mortuaries are being overwhelmed.
“As of (Friday), our Medical Examiner’s Office is reporting that 234 fatalities are being held at our main morgue and at our nine mobile morgues,” Samaniego wrote.
According to the Texas health department, El Paso County has reported more than 79,000 virus cases and 910 related deaths. Statewide, Texas has reported more than 1 million virus cases, more than 20,000 dead and more than 8,100 virus patients hospitalized.