EL PASO, Texas -- The Texas National Guard has sent a 36-member team to El Paso to assist morgues in the border region with the number of dead as a result of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Statewide, the Texas health department on Saturday reported a one-day high of 12,597 new virus cases, nearly 20,500 dead since the pandemic began and more than 8,200 virus hospitalizations.

Virus Outbreak Texas

A healthcare worker processes people waiting in line at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Houston. Texas is rushing thousands of additional medical staff to overworked hospitals as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients increases. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“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,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said late Friday when the deployment was announced.

The pandemic is blamed for 853 deaths in El Paso County, including more than 300 since October. Jail inmates are being paid to move bodies and county leaders are offering $27 an hour for morgue workers.

County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for support for a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew in the county, said mortuaries are being overwhelmed. He wrote that the local medical examiner’s office reported that 234 bodies were being held at the main morgue and nine mobile morgues.

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