Members of the Texas National Guard were mobilized to El Paso County, Texas, to help with the morgue crisis as the state battles a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.
A team of 36 National Guard troops has been deployed to “provide mortuary affairs support,” according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).
The team was mobilized Saturday morning “after completing an assessment of the situation on the ground in El Paso County this week,” TDEM spokesman Seth Christensen told CNN.
“As we’ve seen a rapid increase in cases and hospitalizations, we are unfortunately also seeing a spike in deaths. We have been working closely with funeral homes and mortuaries to assist with increased capacity and coordination of resources,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said in a statement on Twitter.
“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 the city and county have secured a central morgue location to add additional capacity. The location of the morgue will not be disclosed due to privacy concerns, according to the mayor’s statement.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego explained to CNN affiliate KVIA how they would help.
“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,” Samaniego told KVIA. “We’ve got a lot of loved ones waiting for relatives and moms and dads.”
The Texas National Guard was called to replace inmates who were recruited by El Paso earlier this week to move bodies of coronavirus victims to temporarily relieve overworked personnel.
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.
A hot spot of Covid-19 infections
El Paso, one of Texas’ Covid-19 hotspots, reported 843 new Covid-19 cases and two deaths Sunday. The county has recorded a total of 855 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the county health department Covid-19 dashboard.
On Friday, Samaniego sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in hopes of reinstating a curfew for El Paso County in an attempt to stop further infections.
“I think it was very effective for a lot of the young adults that were going to the desert or young adults that would hangout in different situations and also the ones crossing to Mexico and coming from Mexico after 10 o’clock,” Samaniego told KVIA.
The number of US coronavirus cases surpassed 12 million Saturday – an increase of more than 1 million cases in less than a week.
More than 255,000 deaths from Covid-19 have been reported in the US since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of coronavirus-related deaths in El Paso County and linked to the incorrect county dashboard. The county has recorded 853 coronavirus-related deaths.
CNN’s Scottie Andrew contributed to this report.