Texas deploys National Guard to El Paso to help pandemic-ravaged city deal with overflowing morgues

The state government of Texas is sending the National Guard to El Paso, the border town that has been ravaged by COVID-19 to the point where its morgues are overflowing with bodies.

The deployment comes as El Paso residents on Friday continued to receive self-administered COVID-19 tests that are being delivered via drones.

The automated drones deliver the testing kits at the doorsteps of customers who ordered them from Walmart.

The Texas National Guard (seen above in Dallas in April) will be deployed to El Paso beginning on Saturday morning to help the city deal with the overflowing morgues

The Texas National Guard (seen above in Dallas in April) will be deployed to El Paso beginning on Saturday morning to help the city deal with the overflowing morgues

Refrigerated trailers serving as makeshift morgues are pictured outside of the El Paso County Medical Examiner's office in El Paso, Texas, on Monday. Texas National Guard soldiers will 'provide mortuary affairs support,' according to the state government

Refrigerated trailers serving as makeshift morgues are pictured outside of the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s office in El Paso, Texas, on Monday. Texas National Guard soldiers will ‘provide mortuary affairs support,’ according to the state government

DroneUp pilot Chris Holmes visually observes a drone arriving to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home after it was ordered from Walmart

DroneUp pilot Chris Holmes visually observes a drone arriving to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home after it was ordered from Walmart

The retailer is partnering with Quest Diagnostics and drone service provider DroneUp to deliver the kits to customers who do not have to risk contracting the virus by stepping out of their homes.

Earlier this year, Walmart piloted drone delivery of grocery and household products in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as it accelerated the expansion of its pickup and delivery services with virus-wary consumers preferring home delivery. 

The drones launched on Friday dropped COVID-19 self-collection kits on driveways, front sidewalks or backyards of homes within a one-and-a-half-mile radius of designated Walmart stores.

The COVID-19 at-home self-collection kits will be delivered to single-family homes at this time. 

A DroneUp pilot prepares a drone to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home in El Paso on Friday

A DroneUp pilot prepares a drone to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home in El Paso on Friday

A DroneUp pilot prepares a drone to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home in El Paso on Friday

DroneUp pilot Andrew Holbert prepares to launch a drone to deliver a COVID-19 after it was ordered from Walmart by a local resident

DroneUp pilot Andrew Holbert prepares to launch a drone to deliver a COVID-19 after it was ordered from Walmart by a local resident

Residents who live within 1.5 miles of the Walmart Supercenter in East El Paso are eligible for the free kits delivered by DroneUp as part of a drone delivery pilot program

Residents who live within 1.5 miles of the Walmart Supercenter in East El Paso are eligible for the free kits delivered by DroneUp as part of a drone delivery pilot program

Residents watch as a drone delivers a COVID-19 self collection test kit to their El Paso home after being ordered from Walmart

Residents watch as a drone delivers a COVID-19 self collection test kit to their El Paso home after being ordered from Walmart

Texas surpassed 20,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths on Monday, the second highest in the United States, with active cases in El Paso now over 35,000 and confirmed COVID-19 deaths at 845

Texas surpassed 20,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths on Monday, the second highest in the United States, with active cases in El Paso now over 35,000 and confirmed COVID-19 deaths at 845

The moon is seen in the background on a clear, sunny day in El Paso as a drone delivers a COVID-19 testing kit

The moon is seen in the background on a clear, sunny day in El Paso as a drone delivers a COVID-19 testing kit

There is no delivery cost for patients who qualify to receive an at-home self-collection kit through the pilot program

There is no delivery cost for patients who qualify to receive an at-home self-collection kit through the pilot program

Customers can then self-administer the nasal swab and send back samples to Quest Diagnostics for testing – although that would be by regular mail rather than drone.

‘We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone. That still feels like a bit of science fiction,’ Tom Ward, a Walmart senior vice-president, said in a statement.    

‘Walmart has been serving the El Paso community throughout the pandemic with drive-thru testing sites and extended testing hours, and we wanted to provide another way to access testing that provides convenience and leverages technology while learning how drones could impact the delivery of healthcare in the future,’ said Amanda Jenkins, Walmart’s vice president of operation support and implementation. 

‘We are grateful to our Quest and DroneUp partners, and our pharmacists and associates, for their support in launching the pilot as we continue to work together during the pandemic.’ 

There is no delivery cost for patients who qualify to receive an at-home self-collection kit through the pilot program.

Meanwhile, the situation in El Paso, where prison inmates making $2 an hour are being used to store dead bodies in makeshift refrigeration morgues, has become dire.

‘After completing an assessment of the situation on the ground in El Paso County this week, the state has mobilized a team of 36 Texas National Guard personnel to provide mortuary affairs support beginning at 0900 tomorrow,’ read a statement from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

The military’s help is being welcomed by the community.

‘As we’ve seen a rapid increase in cases and hospitalizations, we are unfortunately also seeing a spike in deaths,’ said El Paso Mayor Dee Margo.

‘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.’

An El Paso resident who ordered a COVID-19 testing kit from Walmart waits for her delivery via drone on Friday

An El Paso resident who ordered a COVID-19 testing kit from Walmart waits for her delivery via drone on Friday

The drone begins to descend as the attached testing kit that hangs on a rope is lowered down toward the ground

The drone begins to descend as the attached testing kit that hangs on a rope is lowered down toward the ground

The drone method of delivery allows residents to remain at home and not risk contracting the virus by venturing outside

The drone method of delivery allows residents to remain at home and not risk contracting the virus by venturing outside

A resident picks up the package after a drone delivered a COVID-19 self collection test kit to her home in El Paso on Friday

A resident picks up the package after a drone delivered a COVID-19 self collection test kit to her home in El Paso on Friday

A resident picks up the package after a drone delivered a COVID-19 self collection test kit to her home in El Paso on Friday

A DroneUp pilot visually observes for safety a drone arriving to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home in El Paso on Friday

A DroneUp pilot visually observes for safety a drone arriving to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home in El Paso on Friday

DroneUp pilot Chris Holmes visually observes for safety a drone arriving to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home

DroneUp pilot Chris Holmes visually observes for safety a drone arriving to deliver a COVID-19 self collection test kit to a home

Residents watch and take photos as a drone departs after delivering a COVID-19 self collection test kit to their home

Residents watch and take photos as a drone departs after delivering a COVID-19 self collection test kit to their home

Officials in both the city and county governments secured a central morgue location to store more bodies as mortuaries, funeral homes, and state morgues fill up, according to KFOX 14 TV.

Texas surpassed 8,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients Friday for the first time since a deadly summer surge as doctors amplified pleas to keep Thanksgiving gatherings small.

The worsening surge of cases has El Paso County – where the pandemic is blamed for more than 300 deaths since October – now searching for prospective morgue workers.

County leaders are offering $27 an hour for work they describe as not only physically arduous but ’emotionally taxing as well.’

The job posting comes as El Paso is already paying jail inmates to move bodies and has 10 refrigerated trucks as morgues began to overflow.

Texas reported more than 11,700 new cases on Friday, the second-highest daily total of the pandemic.

More than 8,100 virus patients are hospitalized, the most since early August.

The Texas Hospital Association, the industry group representing more than 500 hospitals, issued a new appeal for families to keep holiday gatherings ‘very small’ as doctors and nurses struggle to keep up with rising caseloads.

‘They are tired and emotionally drained. They are worried about their own families,’ the organization said in a statement.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has ruled out another shutdown and accused local leaders of not enforcing restrictions already in place.

Despite the city being one of the nation’s coronavirus epicenters, it was still business as usual for residents.

El Paso has had 22,000 new cases in the past week alone, with more than 35,000 active Covid-19 cases – 79,162 in total – and 845 deaths since March. 

But despite the rise in cases, residents are going about their daily business with little panic about the virus. 

DailyMail.com spotted people out shopping at the local strip malls and dining out. Several restaurants are opened for dine-in eating and at the local Famous Dave’s has a huge sign that says, ‘Dine-In Now Open.’

In downtown El Paso, city workers were busy setting up Christmas decorations at the town square, while nearby business shop owners put their goods out on the sidewalk in an attempt to bring in customers. 

It's business as usual for residents of El Paso, Texas despite the city being one of the nation's coronavirus epicenters as cases continue to rise, as one woman is seen shopping downtown

It’s business as usual for residents of El Paso, Texas despite the city being one of the nation’s coronavirus epicenters as cases continue to rise, as one woman is seen shopping downtown 

DailyMail.com spotted people out shopping at the local strip malls, and dining out, with several area restaurants open for 'dine-in' eating

DailyMail.com spotted people out shopping at the local strip malls, and dining out, with several area restaurants open for ‘dine-in’ eating

The local Costco and Walmart had plenty of toilet paper, meat, hand sanitizer and more while shelves in other cities are bare due to panic buying

The local Costco and Walmart had plenty of toilet paper, meat, hand sanitizer and more while shelves in other cities are bare due to panic buying

El Paso has the most active cases out of other major and bigger Texas cities, including Austin, Houston and Dallas

 El Paso has the most active cases out of other major and bigger Texas cities, including Austin, Houston and Dallas

El Paso's daily coronavirus cases have risen since October 18, with this graph showing the city's trends

El Paso’s daily coronavirus cases have risen since October 18, with this graph showing the city’s trends

Daily death rate in El Paso appeared to peak at the end of October and beginning of November, with deaths rising to 845

Daily death rate in El Paso appeared to peak at the end of October and beginning of November, with deaths rising to 845

While wearing a mask is mandatory to enter into businesses, several residents were observed not wearing one when out in public. Even a local El Paso PD bicycle officer was spotted not wearing a mask while riding around the downtown area. 

Several cities in the country have reported ‘panic buying’, with frantic shoppers cleaning out stores of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and food. But that’s not the case in El Paso. The local Costco and Walmart had plenty of toilet paper, meat, hand sanitizer and more.

There weren’t mass lines in stores either, which has been the case in other cities.

One local El Pasoan Miguel Jimenez, 45, told DailyMail.com while out shopping that he wasn’t too worried about catching coronavirus, saying, ‘If we get the Covid we get it, it’s God’s will.’

A Covid-19 testing center at the University of Texas El Paso was nearly empty on Thursday, with only about 10 cars waiting to be tested, which pales in comparison with other Texas cities and across the country where the wait has been several hours.

Another free Covid-19 testing center in El Paso was completely empty, with no one in line waiting to be tested.  

The only true sign of the pandemic in the city is near the University Medical Center where there are several portable tents in the parking lot set up for potential Covid-19 patients. 

There weren't mass lines in stores  with people panic buying toilet paper and cases of water, which has been the case in other cities

There weren’t mass lines in stores  with people panic buying toilet paper and cases of water, which has been the case in other cities

Only a handful of vehicles are seen in line for drive thru COVID-19 testing at the University of Texas at El Paso

Only a handful of vehicles are seen in line for drive thru COVID-19 testing at the University of Texas at El Paso

Bars in El Paso are still open, with few patrons pictured inside of this one. More than 132,700 new cases were announced across the United States on Friday, with more than 1,000 deaths reported for the fourth straight day

Bars in El Paso are still open, with few patrons pictured inside of this one. More than 132,700 new cases were announced across the United States on Friday, with more than 1,000 deaths reported for the fourth straight day

The southern Texas city that sits on the Rio Grande, bordering Juarez, Mexico, is one of the nation’s coronavirus epicenters.  

The state of Texas recently surpassed one million confirmed cases of the virus, with 19,000 dead.

The hospitals in the city are filled up with Covid-19 patients.

They account for more than half of all of the hospital admissions in El Paso and 1 in 6 Covid patients hospitalized in Texas are in El Paso.

Morgues are overrun with the dead.

Last week inmates from the local jail were photographed transporting dead Covid-19 patients in and out of refrigerated trucks at the county’s medical examiner’s office.

More than 132,700 new cases were announced across the United States on Friday, with more than 1,000 deaths reported for the fourth straight day. 

El Paso had 22 deaths. 

The southern Texas city that sits on the Rio Grande, bordering Juarez, Mexico, is one of the nation's coronavirus epicenters

The southern Texas city that sits on the Rio Grande, bordering Juarez, Mexico, is one of the nation’s coronavirus epicenters 

In downtown El Paso, city workers were busy setting up Christmas decorations at the town square

In downtown El Paso, city workers were busy setting up Christmas decorations at the town square

Registered nurse Lawanna Rivers took to Facebook to describe her time at the University Medical Center in El Paso where she claims patients were taken to a room called The Pit and given just three rounds of CPR before being pronounced dead

The city of El Paso jumped into the spotlight when a travel nurse went on Facebook Live on November 7 where she described the ‘horrific’ conditions at a local El Paso hospital.

Registered nurse Lawanna Rivers took to Facebook to describe her time at the University Medical Center in El Paso where she claims patients were taken to a room called The Pit and given just three rounds of CPR before being pronounced dead.

In her video posted to Facebook she said: ‘My first day at orientation, I was told that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag. I saw a lot of people die that I felt like shouldn’t have died.

‘This hospital’s policy was they only get three rounds of CPR which was only six minutes, this out of all the codes we had, there is not a single patient that made it.’

Rivers said she left her assignment in El Paso early because she couldn’t bear to watch more patients die.

‘I’ve seen so many deaths in this last month than I’ve seen in my entire 13-year career,’ Rivers said.

She said she was also afraid for her life and the kind of care she would receive if she got sick there.

I kept saying: ‘I can’t get sick here in Texas, because if I get COVID here in Texas … I’m going to die. It was that bad,’ she said.

An inmate from El Paso County detention center waits to help load bodies wrapped in plastic into a refrigerated temporary morgue trailer in a parking lot of the El Paso County Medical Examiner's office on Monday

An inmate from El Paso County detention center waits to help load bodies wrapped in plastic into a refrigerated temporary morgue trailer in a parking lot of the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s office on Monday 

University Medical Center spokesman, Ryan Mielke sent DailyMail.com the following statement in response to Rivers’ comments.

‘After watching the video, while we cannot fully verify the events expressed, we empathize and sympathize with the difficult, physical, and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on thousands of healthcare workers here and throughout our country. This particular travel nurse was at UMC briefly to help El Paso confront the surge of COVID-19 patients.’

In the aim of stopping the spread of the COVID-19 the city of El Paso placed 19 mobile hand-washing stations throughout the downtown area.

Officials worry that the spread of the virus is going to get worse before it gets better and are particularly worried about the upcoming holiday period and have asked residents to limit the number of people at their family gatherings.

El Paso posts grim ‘help wanted’ ad for $27.20-per-hour temporary morgue workers who can lift up to 400lbs to help move bodies of COVID-19 victims 

The El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office posted a help wanted ad calling for  temporary morgue workers to help with the surge of COVID-19 victims.

The job, which pays $27.20 per hour, requires attendants to be able to lift between 100 and 400 pounds with assistance.

Anyone willing to work the graveyard shift for a minimum of four hours will be paid an extra 70 cents per hour.

All applicants will be provided with personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, but will also be tested for the virus before starting. 

‘Not only is this assignment physically taxing, but it may be emotionally taxing as well,’ the ad, which was posted on Thursday night, warned.  

It comes as county officials have resorted to using low-level offender inmates, who are being paid $2 an hour, to help move bodies. 

The El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office posted a help wanted ad asking for temporary morgue workers to be paid $27.20-per-hour and to lift between 100 and 400 pounds with assistance

The El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office posted a help wanted ad asking for temporary morgue workers to be paid $27.20-per-hour and to lift between 100 and 400 pounds with assistance

El Paso County has been relying on low-level offender inmates, who are being paid $2 an hour, to help move bodies. Pictured Inmates from El Paso County detention facility work while loading bodies wrapped in plastic into a refrigerated temporary morgue trailer, Wednesday

El Paso County has been relying on low-level offender inmates, who are being paid $2 an hour, to help move bodies. Pictured Inmates from El Paso County detention facility work while loading bodies wrapped in plastic into a refrigerated temporary morgue trailer, Wednesday

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in a news release on Thursday that the Medical Examiner’s Office currently has 247 bodies at the morgue and inside nine refrigerated trailers being used as ‘mobile morgues.’

On Friday, the county reported 1,062 new coronavirus cases and 22 deaths. At least 86 deaths have been recorded since the beginning of the week. 

In total, 847 people have died in El Paso County, with fatalities expected to surpass 1,000 by the end of the year. 

According to public health data, at least 435 deaths are being investigated to determine if they were caused by COVID-19.

The county had been using minimum-security inmates, paid $2 an hour, to help move bodies at the morgue due to staffing shortages.

On Thursday, Samaniego said they would continue working until enough temporary morgue workers had been hired.  

‘Not everybody is going to be able to do that,’ he said.

‘We’ve had people there that have lasted an hour, 30 minutes, half a day. So, it’s a difficult process.’

Samaniego said he is also waiting for help from the Texas National Guard to aid in transporting bodies.

‘They asked for an assessment of our fatalities situation, and it’s been submitted,’ he said.  

‘It’s in their hands to determine whether or not they’re going to be able to come to El Paso for fatalities management.’

It comes one week after a state appeals court blocked Samaniego’s order for non-essential businesses to be shutdown.

 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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