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Covid-19. Inmates from El Paso, Texas, help move bodies

Dressed in striped uniforms, protected by masks, gloves, and glasses, the prisoners of a El Paso jail collaborate with officials from the local morgue, overwhelmed by the influx of corpses. This American city is succumbing to a flood of coronavirus cases.

The detainees receive two dollars an hour for moving the bodies to half a dozen refrigerated trailers installed outside the El Paso coroner’s office, after the morgue in this town in the state of Texas will run out of space.

“If there are no staff, no one to help, and there are volunteers, even if it is detainees, then that is the only option we have left,” Ricardo Samaniego, a senior El Paso county official, told a local television channel.

In two months, the number of cases of covid-19 increased by 242% in the county. By Wednesday, the total had reached more than 77,000 and deaths to 804.

This West Texas city is now a focus of the epidemic in the United States.

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More than 19% of covid-19 tests are positive in El Paso, above the state average of 11%, 1% more than the critical threshold of 10% set by Republican Governor Greg Abbott .

Last week Texas became the first state in the country to exceed the million positive tests of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Tommy Zavala lost his father Tomás last week to covid-19.

Tomás was 82 years old and had respiratory problems. He and his partner, Guadalupe, had abandoned all social activities months ago, they no longer saw their granddaughter and only left the house to do the shopping or go to the doctor.

“The doctor told me: ‘his father had to be intubated, he is unconscious’. I asked him: ‘But how, if yesterday I was fine?’ ‘Remembers Tommy, 53, on the verge of tears.

Every day Guadalupe observed the university hospital in El Paso, where her husband was hospitalized, from their home, which faces the building. But she was never able to visit him.

The Zavalas managed to send a priest to the hospital room to perform the last sacraments for Tomás, which they were able to witness via Zoom.

They do not yet know when they will be able to collect his body or organize a funeral.

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Tommy Zavala himself contracted the virus in October after his wife Érica showed symptoms when she returned from vacation in a rented house with some friends.

Erica Salas, 41, who works for a mutual and describes herself as “very sociable”, became aware of the seriousness of the pandemic in recent times.

At first, I thought that the virus only affected the elderly or people with previous health problems, but had a “revelation” when a nurse friend died of covid-19 at the age of 39.

Then she contracted the virus herself. Nowadays, you no longer just obey local restrictions, you “take precautions” and no longer go to bars and restaurants, even if they have the right to stay open. “I survived, but I am afraid for others,” he explains.

For nurse Lizette Torres, Del Sol Medical Center, in El Paso “more stringent restrictions” should be implemented.

Otherwise, “the health system will not be able to handle the influx of patients.”

His union organized a honk rally through the city center Monday night to urge residents not to go out.

For almost an hour they marched in cars displaying posters of “Stay home“and” Support the nurses. “

“We should have imposed a total confinement,” said Torres, who says the nurses are “anxious” and “worried.”

El Paso hospitals house 1,052 covid-19 patients, 49% of their total capacity. And there are 46 beds available in the region’s intensive care units.

Ricardo Samaniego ordered the closure of nonessential businesses on October 29, an action that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a group of successful restaurant owners immediately challenged, reversing the decree.

And Governor Greg Abbott, who supports President Donald Trump and has played down the pandemic many times, said: “We will not have a new lockdown in the state of Texas.”