In footage which spread rapidly on social media, nine inmates wearing the striped jumpers of the El Paso county jail helped move bodies into mobile morgues.
“Having to use inmates tells the story of how short-handed we must be,” El Paso county judge Ricardo Samaniego told local media, as he struggled to cope with the rising tide of Covid-19 in the west Texas city on the border with Mexico.
The sheriff’s office said the use of the inmates began on 9 November, on a volunteer basis. El Paso county said the inmates were tested and provided with personal protective equipment by the medical examiner’s office, and would face a two-week quarantine once the program was over. They were being paid $2 an hour.
“It was just a temporary focus, and we’re waiting for the Texas national guard to help us out with that,” said Samaniego, in response to outcry on social media over the use of inmates rather than trained medical professionals.
A spokeswoman for the El Paso county sheriff’s office told the Guardian the inmates’ work would “end when the national guard arrives”. Samaniego, however, wasn’t sure those troops were coming.
“It has not been confirmed that they would be able to take over the demand that we have at this time,” he said.
Residents wear face masks as they sit on a sidewalk in El Paso as a woman walks past on 18 November.…