As COVID-19 deaths continue to surge across the country, states are finding new ways to deal with the overflow of bodies. In El Paso, Texas, prison inmates have been hired for $2 an hour to transport the bodies of those victims, according to CBS News. Chris Acosta, public affairs director at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, described the nine workers as “low-level offenders” and said they work in “full PPE,” which is provided by the morgue and hospital.
“The work is 100% voluntary,” she added. “It’s great that these individuals are stepping up and volunteering to assist a community in dire need of help right now.”
At time of this publication, El Paso has over 76,000 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,120 people are currently hospitalized for the virus. Since the pandemic began in March, there have been 782 deaths, according to local Coronavirus data.
Although several states use prison labor, many people believe that the inmates working close to COVID-19 victims is unethical. Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist, tweeted a video of the inmates moving the bodies. “They’ve been doing this tough work since Monday, before El Paso increased to 10 mobile morgues. I cry for El Paso,” he wrote.
Twitter user @AbbieKamin wrote, “Texas is one of only a handful of states left that allows unpaid labor in prisons. After at first refusing, these inmates are being compensated a whopping $2/hour for 8 hrs of work in El Paso’s morgues because of the surge in #COVID deaths… not ok.”
The prisoners may not be working with the bodies for long, according to Acosta. The state requested help from the National Guard and if they are able to assist, the inmates will stop. Although the cases continue to spike in the Lone Star State, businesses in El Paso county began reopening on Friday (Nov. 13) after a court of appeals voided a judge’s shutdown order.