El Paso County leaders are recruiting extra morgue workers as the Texas region becomes increasingly overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths.
The area has emerged a coronavirus hotspot with at least 855 people dying from the disease, including more than 300 since October, according to local government statistics.
On Friday, the Texas National Guard sent a 36-member team to the border region to help out in the overrun morgues. The team were sent to replace jail inmates who had volunteered to move bodies, according to CNN.
Local leaders are now offering temporary morgue assistants a wage of $27.20 an hour.
He said: “With the upcoming Holiday season I am concerned that without some additional measures, we will continue in a downward spiral, therefore, I am once again seeking your assistance in this emergency situation.
“The curfew I intend to impose will be limited in nature and is designed to stem recreational and international traffic after 10:00 p.m.,” he said.
A curfew had been imposed in the area from October 26 for two weeks. An extension has not been confirmed by Abbott since Samaniego’s request.
After the National Guard was deployed, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo tweeted on Friday: “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.
“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 that El Paso city and county have secured a central morgue location to add additional capacity, but he would not reveal its exact location citing privacy concerns.
Samaniego also told KIVA how the National Guard would support morgue workers, saying: “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.”
“We’ve got a lot of loved ones waiting for relatives and moms and dads.”
RepublicanWire has contacted the City of El Paso and El Paso county for comment.
A Texan couple unable to make Thanksgiving have surprised their grandkids with life-sized cardboard cutouts made in their image to join them at the dinner table.
“My husband and I fall into the ‘vulnerable age’ category, so we made the decision a few weeks ago that we would not travel to either the Texas Hill Country where our son and family live or to California where our daughter’s family live,” Missy Buchanan told RepublicanWire.
Instead, the Rockwall couple brainstormed a creative way in which they could still celebrate the holiday with their grandchildren.
“With the rising COVID numbers, we thought it was a good opportunity to show younger generations that we could have fun ‘celebrating’ even though we were not together physically,” Missy explained.
“For us, it’s all in the attitude… and we chose to bring some laughter to a challenging situation. So my husband and I took a full-length photo on our porch and sent it off to an online service and had them ship the 6 ft-tall cutouts to where our adult children and grandchildren live.”
In preparation, Missy and Barry Buchanan warned the kids that “a rather large box” would be coming and that it was something for their Thanksgiving table.
“Oh my, they thought it was hilarious!” Missy said. “The three-year-old in California has ‘propped’ us up in his room and even talks to us.”
Her daughter, Mindy Whittington, said that although she wished the family could all be together this year, she appreciated the fun prank.
“We all opened it up at the end of the day thinking it was going to be socks or pajamas or something like that,” she told 12NewsNow. “We opened it up and it was hilarious.”
All three grandkids also got a kick out of the amusing arrival.
“We walked up and we opened the door of our garage and they’re like, right in front of us,” granddaughter Clara said. “I thought it was the real Ama and Poppi, then I looked around and I’m like ‘No.'”
“[It was] a little bit scary when I walked in the front door,” grandson Quinton said. “They were just standing there. I got a little bit freaked out.”
For Missy, the doting grandmother just wanted to make the celebration memorable and safe, with a little humor.
“I was just trying to think of something fun, I have really creative and fun kids and grandkids,” she said. “I wanted to make it memorable.
“I want to show our younger generations that we can be apart, but we can still be a part of each other’s lives in our celebrations.”
“As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, we wanted to show that you can have fun and help keep everyone safe, too. I have so many friends who have been impacted by COVID-19. For us, it’s an act of love. And our kids and grandkids are having such fun with ‘us.'”
About 15 family members in Texas contracted the coronavirus, traced to a recent gathering for a birthday party.
Alexa Aragonez, a 26-year-old from Arlington, said that her family felt it would be safe to celebrate her cousin’s wife’s birthday since collectively they had been sticking to strict COVID-19 guidelines, wearing masks and social distancing, according to a report by the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.
Alexa said she didn’t attend the November 1 party, but she did drop off her 57-year-old mother, Enriqueta Aragonez. There were 11 other people in attendance, all younger than Enriqueta—including Alexa’s pregnant cousin and four children all under the age of 12.
All 12 people who attended the party contracted COVID-19. Soon after, another three family members also received positive test results, for a total of 15. Alexa, however, tested negative.
Although the majority of the family faced mild cases of the virus, Enriqueta was hospitalized.
“It’s scary to think that what if my entire family would have had the severe case and every single one of the 15 folks had to go to the hospital,” Alexa told the Star-Telegram. “One, I would feel guilty for taking resources from people that really do need it, and two, I would be at risk of losing my entire family.”
In response, the family decided to share their experience with the City of Arlington with the goal of helping other families avoid the same outcome ahead of the holidays by recording a video, which was shared on social media on Thursday with the hashtag #ProtectArlington.
Each member of the family spoke directly to the camera and pleaded with Arlington residents to stay home and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“I went to my nephew’s house and loved seeing my family, but now I’m fighting against COVID-19,” Enriqueta, who was still in the hospital attached to oxygen tubes, said in the video. “Please protect yourself. It’s real.”
Alexa also shared her mother’s sentiments.
“All this pain that my family is feeling this loneliness the sickness, this longing to be healthy, could have been prevented,” Alexa said. “Please don’t be like my family by avoiding the CDC guidelines. By staying apart, we can fight this virus together.”
Along with many other states across the U.S., Texas has seen a steady surge in cases ahead of the holiday season.
Over 10,915 new coronavirus cases and 132 deaths were reported in Texas on Saturday, according to data by The New York Times. There has been an average of 11,593 new daily cases— a 44 percent increase compared to two weeks prior.
The City of Arlington didn’t respond to RepublicanWire‘s request for comment in time for publication.
Since a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations began devastating much of the U.S. in September, El Paso remains one of the hardest-hit counties in Texas. The state’s Army National Guard is now sending a 36-person team on Saturday to assist in moving bodies and mortuary services at El Paso morgues.
“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 9 o’clock tomorrow (Saturday) morning,” Seth Christensen, spokesperson for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said in a Friday statement to the El Paso Times.
On Friday, El Paso reported 22 new COVID deaths Friday and eight more on Saturday, adding to a current total of 853 deaths due to the virus, according to county statistics. The county reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total to over 80,000 cases.
With hospitalizations throughout the county reaching more than 1,000 and hospital beds becoming limited, El Paso has had to utilize makeshift tent hospitals for patients and convert refrigerated trucks into temporary morgues in order to store the overwhelming number of bodies.
— Keenan Willard (@KeenanKFOX_CBS) November 20, 2020
“The Morgue Attendants will be provided maximum PPE [personal protective equipment], and will receive a COVID test prior to starting,” the public notice reads. “All Morgue Attendants will be tasked with physically moving Decedents […] Not only is this assignment physically taxing, but it may be emotionally taxing as well.”
As of Thursday, the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office had 247 bodies being held at their main morgue and within their nine mobile morgues, according to a news release from Samaniego. He noted that “the trends we are seeing shows that we are absolutely nowhere close to being out of the woods.”
Following the announcement that the National Guard would be mobilized in El Paso, as shared by KTSM, Samaniego sent a letter to Abbott requesting the ability to place stricter restrictions and stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of the virus.
“I thank the National Guard and the State in advance for this much needed support,” Samaniego wrote. “With the upcoming Holiday season I am concerned that without some additional measures, we will continue in a downward spiral, therefore, I am once again seeking your assistance in this emergency situation.
“The curfew I intend to impose will be limited in nature and is designed to stem recreational and international traffic after 10:00 p.m.,” he continued. “I have reached out to the business community and have been requested to seek this clarification and, if permissible, issue an order temporarily imposing a 10:00 p.m.to 5:00 a.m. curfew. The proposed curfew will not interfere with persons seeking to access essential or nonessential services.”
Last week, the 8th District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state and local restaurant owners, who sued Samaniego for issuing a city-wide shutdown after Abbott issued a reopening order on October 7. The three-judge panel ruled that the county judge’s directives can’t go against the governor’s statewide orders.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the court’s decision and called Samaniego a “tyrant” for imposing the orders.
“As the court aptly put, ‘the public cannot have two sets of rules to live by.’ A tyrant who thinks he can ignore state law cannot stop that,” Paxton said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I will not let rogue political subdivisions try to kill small businesses and holiday gatherings through unlawful executive orders.”
However, in his Friday letter, Samaniego said that the district court “mistakenly interpreted” the stay-at-home orders as conflicting with Abbott’s own restrictions.
“I am aware of other jurisdictions imposing a curfew and I don’t believe that a curfew is in conflict with your orders,” the letter read. “I am seeking clarification from you that a curfew is consistent with your existing orders.”
“The curfew is supported by physicians and community leaders from the County, City and Fort Bliss who support such a strategy to reduce the impact of COVID-19 for your constituents in El Paso,” Samaniego later added. “We are working hard in El Paso to enforce the existing orders, help the business community comply with existing health orders, and stem the rising tide of the virus. I am confident that the imposition of a curfew will assist in this fight.”
RepublicanWire reached out to Abbott’s office and the Texas Division of Emergency Management for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Texas’s largest county sent an emergency alert asking residents to cancel their holiday plans on Tuesday. The alert came as coronavirus cases surge in the area.
The alert was sent over text to 4.7 million Harris County residents on November 17 asking them to ditch their holiday plans and opt to get tested for COVID-19 instead. Harris County is home to Houston and several of the city’s suburbs.
“COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across Harris County. Stop gatherings. Get tested. Wear a mask,” the alert said.
Statewide, Texas has seen an average of 10,635 new cases each day, according to data from The New York Times. On November 17, over 10,859 cases and 121 deaths were reported in the state. As of afternoon on November 18, there have been over 1,114,729 cases and 20,289 deaths in Texas since the start of the pandemic in March.
Harris County, which has the largest population in the state, has seen a 250 percent increase in the average number of new daily cases since late September, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The county’s positivity rate is now 8.2 percent.
“Today I want to urge every resident in Harris County to do two things, said Hidalgo during a video of Tuesday press conference, emailed to RepublicanWire on November 18. “First to cancel gatherings, large and small, unless you’re with your household. This is simply not the time for gatherings and get-togethers with people you don’t share a home with.”
She continued: “We all have a desire to be together, particularly as the holidays approach, but we’re in a war against this virus, things shouldn’t be normal. And if things feel normal, we know we’re doing something wrong.”
Instead of large family gatherings, Hidalgo encouraged residents to celebrate within their immediate household and support local businesses with take-out and delivery options. The judge then urged people to get tested, even if they don’t show symptoms of the novel virus.
Hidalgo also expressed her concern for the surge in cases in El Paso County noting that she doesn’t want the same to happen in Harris County.
“I am concerned by what’s happening in El Paso and seeing that they’ve got no recourse, that they’re having to pull up those mobile morgues, that hospitals are overwhelmed, stories of tragedy,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want that to happen here and that’s why we’re having this conversation to try and avoid that fate.”
New cases of COVID-19 in El Paso began spiking in October, going from 132 average daily cases in September to more than 1,120 daily cases in the past month. El Paso’s health care system became overwhelmed as deaths and hospitalization surged in the county.
A COVID-19 patient who denied the severity of the outbreak despite being in intensive care admitted he was “mistaken” after an encounter with a nurse who told him: “I’ve seen more people die in the last two weeks than I have in my entire career.”
The exchange was shared in a Twitter thread posted by @TheBlondeRN, a nurse in El Paso, Texas who was “recently transferred from the OR [operating room] to COVID ICU.”
The nurse wrote on Monday: “I resigned from my job last week and I’ve been asked several times, ‘What was the breaking point?’ I don’t know a specific one, but I’ll share this: a thread.”
Her thread, which has received more than 100,000 likes and 38,000 retweets, gave an account of a “very eye opening experience” the nurse had with a COVID-19 patient during her final shift,.
She recalled speaking to the patient, who referred to “fake news” and said: “I don’t think covids is really more than a flu.”
When she asked the patient, “Now you think differently though?”, he replied: “No the same. I should just take vitamins for my immune system. They (news) are making it a big deal.”
The nurse wrote: “I’m shocked. I’m at a loss for words. Here I am basically wrapped in tarp, here he is in a COVID ICU. How can you deny the validity of COVID? How is this possible? Misinformation is literally killing people.”
Following some hesitation, the nurse was “brutally honest” with the patient and said: “You’re the only patient of 25 that has been able to speak to me today or is even aware I’m here.
“I tell him in 10 years of being a nurse I’ve done more CPR and seen more people die in the last two weeks than I have in my entire career.”
The nurse’s statement shifted the patient’s perspective. “His tone changes, he seems to have understood the gravity of what I’m saying. He apologizes. I cry. The hot tears roll down my face from under my glasses, onto my mask, my respirator, from under my face shield and onto my gown,” she writes.
While being transferred to a different COVID-19 floor, the patient told the nurse: “Thank you for telling me what you told me. Thank you for being a good nurse and about me. I saw a lot of the other ones when you were wheeling me out of ICU. It’s much more than a flu. I was mistaken.
“I will tell everyone that denies how bad this is about my experiences,” he added.
The nurse’s thread was shared on Tuesday by actress Kerry Washington, who tweeted: “Misinformation is killing us.”
The thread follows a week of record COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S., according to The Atlantic‘s COVID Tracking Project.
In the period from November 4 to 17, the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases increased in every state except Hawaii, North Dakota, Iowa and Mississippi, according to Johns Hopkins University.
As total confirmed cases in the U.S. approach 11.4 million, with more than 248,000 reported deaths, skepticism about the virus remains among a significant portion of the American population, according to a survey by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project.
About 38 percent of Americans think the COVID-19 death rate has been “deliberately and greatly exaggerated,” according to the study of 26,000 people in 25 countries, conducted in collaboration with The Guardian.
Some 35 percent of Americans believe it is definitely or probably true that the virus was deliberately created and spread by the Chinese government, said the survey, which was published in late October.
A third (33 percent) of Americans were reported to give at least some credence to the view that “the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is being deliberately hidden from the public.”
An article published in March by BMC Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found “a global rise recently in the spread of misinformation that has plagued the scientific community and public…the public health crisis emerging due to the coronavirus is also now beginning to feel the effects of misinformation.
“As COVID-19 turns into a full-fledged public health crisis, multiple theories regarding the virus’ origin have taken hold on the internet, all with a common theme: the virus was artificially created in a lab by a rogue government with an agenda.
“If powerful and clear statements are not made denouncing and debunking these fabrications, then the impact on the populous has the potential to be devastating.”