Texas is requesting five mortuary trailers in anticipation of an increase in dead bodies as the delta variant spikes, while the state also prepares to house thousands of Afghan refugees in addition to coping with the border crisis.
“We are anticipating a need within the state of Texas for these trailers as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to increase,” Department of State Health Services spokesperson Doug Loveday said Monday, adding that the trailers were requested on Aug. 4.
The trailers would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and be stationed in San Antonio, where they would then move to various Texas locations if local leaders request them, Loveday told NBC News.
“We haven’t gotten any local requests, but we want to be ready with the COVID cases in the state,” Department of State Health Services Chris Van Deusen added, according to the outlet. “We didn’t want to wait.”
The seven-day average of coronavirus deaths in Texas sits at about 80 per day.
The announcement comes as Texas and other border states face a continued migration crisis, with last month seeing a total of 212,672 encounters – a 13% spike compared to encounters in June.
In the city of McAllen, for example, an emergency shelter was expanded this month to keep up with the number of COVID-positive migrants. City officials said more than 7,500 COVID-positive migrants have been released into the city since February, with 1,500 released over one week in August alone.
“Despite the City of McAllen and its community partners’ best efforts, the sheer number of immigrants being released into the city has become a crisis: a crisis the City of McAllen did not create and has proactively tried to avoid for seven years,” the city said in a statement this month.
A Border Patrol union official also warned this summer that agents are releasing migrants who test positive for the virus “day in, day out.”
“And we’re releasing people out of the door day in and day out with actual positive tests for COVID and more keep popping up,” Chris Cabrera, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said in July.
Health officials in Texas, however, say migrants are not to blame for the increase in coronavirus cases, laying blame on the unvaccinated instead.
“Is it a pandemic of the migrants? No, it is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Ivan Melendez, a local health official in Hidalgo County, said.
Conservative leaders have meanwhile repeatedly attacked the Biden administration’s immigration policies, especially in light of the virus, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis saying President Biden is “helping to facilitate” the virus.
“Whatever variants are around the world, they’re coming across that southern border,” DeSantis said earlier this month. “He’s not shutting down the virus, he’s helping to facilitate it.”
Now, Texas is bracing for another influx of people in the state amid the virus: Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban.
“We want to have the capacity to get up to several thousand immediately, and want to be prepared for the potential of tens of thousands,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Fox News this week of refugees being housed in the U.S. “Bliss and McCoy have the capability right now – and what’s advantageous is, with a little bit of work, they could increase their capacity in very short order.”
“Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can. There will be a mix, not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well,” Kirby said. “We’re going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop. It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants. We’re going to focus on getting as many folks out as we can.”
The state will take in at least 300 refugees this week, with more expected in the coming weeks, according to Refugee Services of Texas, Houston Public Media reported.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office directed Fox News to the Texas Department of State Health Services when approached for comment on the mortuary trailer request in light of the migrant crisis and housing Afghan refugees.
The department told Fox News that “FEMA previously provided [the mortuary trailer] resource for earlier increases in COVID-19 fatalities and has indicated they will be delivered in the next week to two weeks.”