In the face of rising infections, Texas funeral home directors prepare for the worst

More than 550 residents have died from COVID-19 since El Paso's outbreak began.

October 20, 2020, 2:17 PM

In El Paso, Texas, funeral directors are preparing for a worst-case scenario.

Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 infections have risen 500%, according Angela Mora, the city's health director. While El Paso is doing more testing, rising hospitalizations and a 12.7% positivity rate for COVID-19 tests suggest that El Paso's outbreak is worsening.

The World Health Organization recommends that governments get their positivity testing threshold below 5%.

PHOTO: Nurses conduct coronavirus testing at a mega drive-thru site at SISD Student Activities Complex on July 21, 2020, in El Paso, Texas.
Nurses conduct coronavirus testing at a mega drive-thru site at SISD Student Activities Complex on July 21, 2020, in El Paso, Texas.
Cengiz Yar/Getty Images, FILE

While experts consider deaths from COVID-19 to be a lagging indictor of the outbreak’s severity, funeral home directors in the city say they have seen between a 30% and 40% increase in deaths. A third of those deaths are COVID-19 cases.

At Sunset Funeral Homes, the staff is preparing to be "overwhelmed" in coming weeks, funeral director Christopher Lujan told ABC News. Across town, Perches Funeral Home is doing its own preparations. The funeral home chapel was turned into a refrigerator truck to ensure there was sufficient space to store corpses if deaths continue to rise.

PHOTO: People wait in their cars at a mega drive-thru site at SISD Student Activities Complex on July 21, 2020, in El Paso, Texas.
People wait in their cars at a mega drive-thru site at SISD Student Activities Complex on July 21, 2020, in El Paso, Texas.
Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

As of Tuesday, El Paso had reported more than 34,000 COVID-19 infections and 560 deaths from the virus, according to city data. Young people between the ages of 21 and 39 are driving the recent rise in infections, according to El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, who added that El Paso residents, of whom more than 85% are Latino, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and death.

ABC News' Matt Gutman and Lissette Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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