Inmates in El Paso, Texas, help move bodies to refrigerated trailers outside the El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office in Texas. Covid-19 cases have surged in El Paso.
CNN  — 

El Paso County, one of Texas’ Covid-19 hotspots, has recruited inmates to move bodies of coronavirus victims. They are temporarily relieving overworked personnel at the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office, authorities say.

Nine inmates from an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office detention facility have volunteered to assist the medical examiner’s office, which is currently housing bodies of Covid-19 victims in its permanent and mobile morgues. They have been working at the medical examiner’s office for a week now, said Chris Acosta, public affairs director for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told CNN affiliate KVIA that the inmates are there to “lend a helping hand” to overworked staff at the medical examiner’s office, where over 100 bodies are being housed in the permanent morgue and mobile morgues.

“We’re shorthanded,” Samaniego told KVIA. “People are really tired; nurses and doctors are tired.”

The inmates are all “low-level offenders” who work eight-hour shifts every day, clad in personal protective equipment provided to them by the medical examiner’s office. They’re paid $2 an hour and supervised by a sheriff’s deputy and two detention officers, Acosta told CNN.

Acosta didn’t answer CNN’s question about what else the inmates do at the medical examiner’s office besides transport bodies. CNN has reached out to the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office and is waiting to hear back.

The volunteers are being housed together while they work to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the detention facility and will continue to live together for two weeks after their assignment ends, Acosta said.

Since March, nearly 75,000 people in El Paso County have tested positive for coronavirus, according to a county coronavirus dashboard. Covid-19 cases have especially surged in the last month, and for all but two days in November so far, the county has recorded over 1,000 new cases every day.

Last month, funeral homes in the county prepared refrigerated units to house bodies in case they became overloaded. The county also requested four additional mobile morgues last week, which would bring the total of mobile morgues to 10.

The inmates are working in a temporary capacity – the Texas National Guard has been called to replace them, Acosta said. CNN has reached out to the Texas Military Department for more information on the National Guard’s deployment and is waiting to hear back.

CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.