Chilling video has emerged of prisoners removing the bodies of patients who have died from Covid-19 as hospitals in Texas become overwhelmed by the rising fatalities.
The footage, shared on Twitter by American epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, shows inmates wheeling out the bodies into truck containers which are acting as mobile morgues.
Dr Feigl-Ding explained the truck containers were “overflow morgues” and there were 10 of them parked in the area after the hospital added six more earlier this week.
The vision is from El Paso where the state just successfully overturned an order introduced by the local county forcing the closure of non-essential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Inmates wear full PPEs and [are] paid US$2/hour,” Dr Feigl-Ding tweeted.
“They’ve been doing this tough work since Monday, before El Paso increased to 10 mobile morgues. I cry for El Paso.”
He labelled the footage “chilling”.
Dr Cleavon Gilman, a doctor treating Covid patients in New York City, called it an example of modern day “slavery”.
📍NEW: Chilling video of El Paso jail inmates hired to move bodies of #COVID19 deceased patients into mobile overflow morgues. Inmates wear full PPEs & paid $2/hour. They’ve been doing this tough work since Monday, before El Paso increased to 10 mobile morgues. I cry for El Paso. pic.twitter.com/KgQBpzD1mZ
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) November 15, 2020
“Over 230 inmates have died from Covid in Texas. 80 per cent of them were in pretrial detention and hadn’t even been convicted of a crime. In addition, 58 per cent of Texas prisoners who died from COVID were eligible for parole,” he commented alongside the clip.
Texas has been struggling to control the coronavirus, and on Wednesday (local time) it became the nation’s first state to pass the 1 million mark in confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. California followed a few days later.
“From expecting inmates to risk their health and wellbeing for chattel wages, to the gross indifference political leaders display as bodies stack higher and higher and corporations make record returns off all this misery. Something better change,” remarked one Twitter user in response to the video.
“That is absolutely appalling - using inmates to do dangerous work,” another said, while one person labelled the situation “simply horrifying”.
The El Paso county has a population of just over 720,000. The county health department on Saturday (local time) reported 1,512 new Covid-19 cases, and a 7-day average of 1,437 new cases per day.
There were 15 additional deaths for a total of 756 and 1,091 people hospitalised with the virus.
Inmates only helping ‘temporarily’
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told ABC 7 inmates are helping remove the bodies as the morgues are currently overwhelmed.
He said it’s only temporary though until the Texas National Guard arrives to assist.
The El Paso County Detention Facility said four to eight inmates are helping daily.
Throughout the pandemic, the country has struggled with preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus through inmate populations in prisons. A study into Covid deaths in custody conducted by the University of Texas at Austin found many prisoners have died behind bars from the virus – many who haven’t been convicted of an offence.
The study found 231 people had died from coronavirus in Texas jails including staff and inmates. Eighty per cent were not convicted of a crime and 58 per cent were eligible for parole.
Researchers added it’s likely the numbers “are conservative and there is a great risk of undercounting” adding some people may have been released from jail and died from Covid-19 outside so as to not be recorded as a “jail death”.
Others may have died from Covid without anyone knowing as they never underwent testing.
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