In footage that quickly spread on social media, nine inmates wearing the striped sweaters of the El Paso County Jail helped moving bodies in mobile morgues.
“Having to use inmates tells how understaffed we must be,” El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told local media as he struggled to cope with the tide rise of Covid-19 in the city of West Texas, on the border with Mexico.
The sheriff’s office said the use of inmates began on Nov. 9, on a voluntary basis. El Paso County said inmates had been tested and fitted with personal protective equipment by the medical examiner’s office, and would face a two-week quarantine after the program ends. They were paid $ 2 an hour.
“It was only a temporary focus, and we’re waiting for the Texas National Guard to help us with that,” Samaniego said, responding to outcry on social media over the use of inmates rather than law enforcement professionals. health trained.
A spokeswoman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office told The Guardian that inmates’ work “will end when the National Guard arrives.” Samaniego, however, was not sure these troops were coming.
“It has not been confirmed that they will be able to accommodate the demand that we have at the moment,” he said.
The El Paso County Public Health Department has confirmed more than 800 deaths since March. 400 others are under investigation. El Paso has called more mobile mortuaries in recent days, from six to ten.
Authorities in El Paso fear a dire situation could escalate. The facilities are overwhelmed: 1,100 people are hospitalized with Covid-19.
In a touching video of nearly an hour on Facebook, Lawanna Rivers, a nurse who came to Texas to help, described the dire situation.
“The only way these patients came out of this pit was in a body bag,” she said, referring to the Covid unit where she was waking up. “I’m not OK mentally emotionally.”
Rivers claimed intensive care at the University Medical Center (UMC) was not aggressive enough to save lives.
“The policy at this hospital was that they only got three cycles of CPR, which only lasted six minutes, out of all the codes we had – there isn’t a single patient that was successful,” he said. Rivers said.
El Paso was his fifth mission during the pandemic. On the verge of tears, she said working there had left her more “emotionally scarred” than working in New York City, which was the world’s worst hotspot for infections in early spring.
In a statement, UMC said: “After watching the video, although we cannot fully verify the events expressed, we sympathize and sympathize with the difficult, physical and emotional toll this pandemic is taking on thousands of workers in health here and across our country.
“This particular travel nurse was briefly at UMC to help El Paso cope with the influx of patients with Covid-19.”
Rivers chose to leave her assignment early and return home to her family.
Behind the numbers are thousands of names. Jojo Sanchez was one of them. A 74-year-old former emergency medical technician turned emergency room technician, he lost his battle with Covid-19 on November 12 at Del Sol Medical Center, where he had helped so many people.
“He watched so many of us grow up and he had a shoebox of photos of people who had worked there for a long time,” said Barbara Yoon, a colleague. “He was everyone’s grandfather.
Sanchez fought Covid-19 for three weeks. His family has not been allowed to visit him. His ER friends came by frequently, so he wasn’t alone.
“It’s a bittersweet ending for a man who was truly loved,” Yoon said.
It is not known if Sanchez contracted Covid-19 while working in the emergency room. His wife and granddaughter have also tested positive. After a brief stint in the hospital, his wife recovered at home. Her granddaughter presented with mild symptoms.
UMC is a few miles from the state’s border with New Mexico, where Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has reimplemented a stay-at-home order. New Mexico has recorded just over 70,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. El Paso County alone has recorded about 7,000 more.
Samaniego recently issued a stay at home order. It was quickly challenged by Mayor Dee Margo, who appealed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The attorney general ruled the closure illegal, only to be confirmed by a state court and then overturned again on appeal. El Pasoans was confused.
“Some businesses have closed while others have remained open,” said Debbie Mendez, a mother from El Paso. “If there is no stability with city officials, the citizens of El Paso will basically do whatever they want and the cases of Covid will continue to rise.”
A gymnasium in western El Paso was among the businesses that decided to stay open, even after the state court ruled that the stay at Samaniego house order could be enforced by police. In a statement accompanying a fundraising account, the owners of Sun City Athletics claimed to have received two warnings and two citations. Quotes are up to $ 500 each. GoFundMe raised over $ 4,000 in less than two days. After the appeals court overturned the order, the gymnasium said it would refund all donations.
El Paso is much worse than Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, the four largest cities in Texas. They have a total of 34,391 active cases among 10.6 million residents. As of Wednesday this week, El Paso reported 34,819 active cases among its 840,000 residents.
About 83% of El Paso’s population is Hispanic, a significant amount living in multi-generational households. According to data provided by the public health department, 93% of the approximately 77,000 people who have tested positive since March are Hispanic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Latinos are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes as white Americans. According to the El Paso Department of Health, diabetes and hypertension are two of the main underlying conditions present in residents who have tested positive for Covid-19. In El Paso, patients with underlying conditions account for 97% of the death toll.
Sharing the tip of West Texas with the Fort Bliss military base, El Paso is also home to a large military population. According to the Department of Defense, the base cannot disclose Covid case numbers for national security reasons.
But there are signs that the epidemic is affecting military families. Fort Bliss announced new guidelines for those in office, including a social distancing guideline of 10 feet, not 6 feet as suggested by the CDC. Additionally, a second outbreak since March was recently reported at the Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home (AGVH) in northeast El Paso.
Two veterans of the house have recently died. One was a famous El Paso author, Léon Metz. The other was Otis Ramey, a beloved husband, father and grandfather. According to Ramey’s granddaughter, the two were roommates.
The pandemic ended the funeral with military honors.
And at El Paso funeral homes, social distancing and capacity limits apply. But as mobile morgues fill up, some families experience a four-week delay before they can even bury their loved ones.