EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Thirty-six National Guard troops arrived Saturday at the Medical Examiner’s Office in South Central El Paso to help with the bodies from an increasing number of COVID-19 related deaths Saturday afternoon.
“There is nothing better than the National Guard; they’re trained to do that. That’s what they do, disasters, emergencies,” said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, calling the number of bodies “horrible”.
“What’s backing us up is the funeral homes unable to take the bodies and that’s what’s holding. That’s why we have the trailers, that’s why we have the morgues full. We have 250 plus bodies at the trailers and at the morgue at this time and we have over 480 under investigation,” Samaniego said.
The National Guard troops will be helping with the bodies making sure there is enough space and moving bodies.
“To move things around and just be as respectful as possibly can when it comes to treating these folks who have passed away due to COVID,” El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said.
Stout says the plan is for the troops to help at the Medical Examiner’s Office while a secondary morgue is built.
“I’m not exactly sure where the alternate site is yet. I’m not sure if it’s been decided where it’s going to be. But the point of having that is we need overflow space, and it’s basically going to be a building that we are going to be able to refrigerate and keep at a cooler temperature as opposed to bringing in more of these mobile morgues.”
The county is still hiring more people to help at the morgue, Stout said. He says with the additional employees and the National Guard here to help, with the hope that inmates will no longer be needed move bodies.
“Together with the hopefully 25 or so folks that we are going to be hiring on hopefully by Monday and with the close to 40 troops that are coming to help, we will no longer need to be using the inmates for this labor,” Stout said.
On Nov. 13, KTSM broke the story that inmates were being used to move bodies at the Medical Examiner’s Office. Initially, the inmates were asked to volunteer for the position. When no one volunteered, the inmates were offered $2 an hour. The newly hired employees are expected to make $27 an hour.
According to Stout, the Medical Examiner’s Office is currently full of bodies, and there are currently 10 mobile morgues, with six of them being used.