The Texas National Guard has been deployed to El Paso to help manage the number of bodies at morgues due to the coronavirus pandemic. El Paso is a hot spot with a spike in cases. The border city has received the help of a 36-member team from the Texas National Guard to help out in the morgues.
The Texas National Guard team replaces jail inmates who were being used, volunteers who helped move bodies. In El Paso, 855 people have died since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, 300 since October. Local leaders are offering increased pay to try and recruit more morgue workers. Temporary morgue assistants are being offered $27.20 an hour to move bodies, which is both physically and emotionally taxing work. Public notices are being posted with a job description.
The job description reads: “The Morgue Attendants will be provided maximum PPE [personal protective equipment], and will receive a COVID test prior to starting.”
The public notice continues: “All Morgue Attendants will be tasked with physically moving Decedents […] Not only is this assignment physically taxing, but it may be emotionally taxing as well.”
This is a grim story made more so during a holiday week known as a special time for families and friends to gather together and celebrate our blessings. New cases of the coronavirus are soaring in some areas of Texas. On Saturday the Texas health department announced a daily record of 12,597 new cases statewide. For perspective, since the pandemic began, more than 20,500 people have died in the state after contracting coronavirus. More than 8,200 patients have been hospitalized with the virus. There is a report of a large family birthday party earlier this month that resulted in fifteen family members being infected with the coronavirus. There is a concern now that the Thanksgiving holiday will produce a further escalation of cases as families get together.
The El Paso County Judge (not a judicial position but a CEO-type position) and Governor Abbott have clashed over shutdowns and curfews in El Paso as the city has battled a rise in cases. Governor Abbott says he will not allow another statewide shutdown, that local officials have the tools necessary to make their own decisions, but his orders trump those of local officials. He reminded viewers of his orders currently in place in Texas during an interview on Fox and Friends this morning – most gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, there is a statewide mask mandate, bars are held to a 50% occupancy limit, restaurants are at 75% capacity limits, and there are no capacity limits on houses of worship.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego wrote to Governor Abbott over the weekend to ask for his support in reimposing a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. due to overwhelmed morgues. He reported that there were 247 bodies being held at the main morgue and nine mobile morgues, according to the local medical examiner.
He said: “With the upcoming Holiday season I am concerned that without some additional measures, we will continue in a downward spiral, therefore, I am once again seeking your assistance in this emergency situation.
“The curfew I intend to impose will be limited in nature and is designed to stem recreational and international traffic after 10:00 p.m.,” he said.
A curfew had been imposed in the area from October 26 for two weeks. An extension has not been confirmed by Abbott since Samaniego’s request.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo addressed the situation in social media after the National Guard was deployed, keeping the city’s residents up to date. The Texas National Guard will provide much-needed personnel to morgues.
2/ 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. #ElPasoTX
— Mayor Dee Margo (@mayor_margo) November 21, 2020
“We have been working closely with funeral homes and mortuaries to assist with increased capacity and coordination of resources.
“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.”
Margo said that El Paso city and county have secured a central morgue location to add additional capacity, but he would not reveal its exact location citing privacy concerns.
Judge Samaniego told reporters that the Texas National Guard is supporting morgue workers. “Right now they’re helping us with the overflow of transporting where the trailers are, trying to get some movement so we don’t have any backup. We’ve got a lot of loved ones waiting for relatives and moms and dads.”